Happy Holidays

Lahu villagers from Jabo, in northern Thailand, pound sticky rice in order to make New Year’s cakes for spirit offerings

Happy International Women’s Day, to all of you female friends. To the men out there: please treat the women in your life kindly today.

And happy Lahu New Year, a week belated. We happened to spend that holiday with the villagers of Jabo, in northern Thailand, where the headman granted us a fascinating interview about the archaeological importance of a nearby cave. He took time from the holiday festivities to serve us tea and chat about village history.

Lahu New Year’s dinner preparations

Meanwhile, some villagers prepared a pig for the evening feast while others exercised upper-arm muscles, pounding cooked sticky rice, fresh and hot from the pot, with the aid of two 12-foot green bamboo pestles and a giant mortar carved from a log. The rice was mixed with ground sesame and shaped into tiny cakes that hardened in time. These can be eaten with jaggery for a stick-to-your-ribs sort of mountain snack. But the Lahu, who follow the animist traditions of their ancestors, offered most New Year cakes to the spirits for peace, health and good luck in the coming months.

Lahu rice cakes

The perfectly hospitable villagers handed us a sack of cakes, nearly 10 pounds worth of sticky rice. “For you,” they said. We ate a few but couldn’t possibly finish them all. No human could tackle such a load; perhaps the spirits could. The next day we spread the remaining cakes around a spirit house on the edge of a mountainous highway as an offering for safe journeys.

The Jabo headman kindly invited us to return for a night of Lahu dancing, 9 p.m. til sunrise. We fully intended to fetch a little dinner, then drive the winding road back to his village. But our headlights flickered on and off in the moonless night, and we decided it best to skip the party. Good thing–the next morning, 2 miles downhill from the lodge where we’d been staying, our brakes failed. A hunk of metal fell on the road–a brake shoe. Good thing ours was the only vehicle on the road that moment.

You’ll hear more about the wonders of Thai rental Jeeps in another forum. For now: happy New Year, happy Women’s Day, and safe travels.

A greater racket-tailed drongo greets the Lahu New Year morning

3 thoughts on “Happy Holidays

  1. Both here in Hawaii, and in Japan where we lived for a time, New Years is also celebrated with those pounded, sticky rice treats, here called mochi. I wonder how many Asian cultures have this tradition.

  2. Claudia, yes, sticky rice cakes surface in many New Year celebrations across Asia. I don’t know precisely in how many cultures, but a lot!

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