Photographer's Note

Mask Circle
The masks for the Ghost festival have been prepared and the ghost dancers are changed into their costumes. The sets of identical masks, made by each team are laid out in a circle ready for the festival to begin. The teams are formed from the different villages or disticts. When the time comes, the young men will don their masks and impresonate the spirits of nature, to dance and dance through the day and the night, to call for the rains to come.

This Festival
The Phi Ta Khon festival in Loei in the mountains of North-Eastern Thailand is often called the Ghost Festival. The Spirit Festival would be a better name, since the spirits summoned up are not those of dead people but the spirits of the hills, fields and forests. Its unique character is that most of the men –and today even some women- make and wear their traditional masks and colourful costumes. For two days and nights they will dance and make merry in a wild carnival. Traditionally they believed that they became possessed by the spirits and some still do (alcohol is a more likely explanation) It is wild, chaotic, exhilarating and totally unique to this tiny mountain town. The masks are made and decorated according to tradition handed down across the generations.

South East Asian fertility Rites.
Phi Ta Khon, is a fertility rite. It has nothing to do with Buddhism, but harks back to pre-Buddhist Spirit worship, which still exists in country areas. It also reflects ancient Hindu beliefs. They are held in many places and take place before the start of the monsoon. The idea is to awaken the spirits to send the rain. Rain is a matter of life of death here. These rites are not dissimilar to the Western traditions of Carnival and Mardi Gras. They are so deeply embedded in the cultures of these areas that they thrive despite the arrival of Buddhism and the age of technology. They are all different but share certain characteristics.
These include…
wild dancing and drinking.
Processions of the different communities , showing the tradition and skills.
Man stripping off and painting their bodies black. To dance for the spirits.
Men dressing as women in a humorous way.
Men covering their bodies in mud.
Processions of pretty girls and handsome boys.
The cult of the male penis. The phallic symbol.
Bawdiness as related to fertility.

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Additional Photos by kevin o'sheehan (kevinos) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 1023 W: 173 N: 1802] (7517)
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