Living among spirits 寮國|喀木族的靈界線

Written by Misha. 中文翻譯在下方

Since almost one week we live in a remote village in Northern Laos. The village is tiny, only 500 people are living here. But the life here is hectic, the settlement looks very alive, all ages are present here. Kids follow us every step, old people starring curiously. This village is populated by Khmu people, a big ethnic group in Northern Laos.They moved here around 20 years ago, settled down and witnessed the crazy deforestation period as Laos companies and later Chinese were cutting the primary forest for furniture. With the forest, the tigers were gone, also wild elephants and other rare animals. It was sad to see the result and to imagine how it once may looked like. 

Life here depends fully on the surroundings, the ricefields, the jungle, the weather, the nature. People here are selfdepending. They produce everything necessary for their existence, from bamboo spoons, knifes and knitted bags to bungalows and huts. They live close to the nature, they are in balance with it. All the food we’ve been eating these past days came from the forest. Bamboo, mushrooms and some green leaves. We were “lucky" to be there during the bamboo shoot season. A lot of things here in the forests are eatable, a lot of them are poisonous. 

“We are not Buddhists or Christians, we believe in spirits." says Tha, the local guide and person who became our friend. It seems spirits populate every inch of the space in Tha’s world, and not only in his. Everyone here of all ages strongly believe in spirits. It is very hard to imagine what exactly they are, the spirits. The picture of them isn’t clear. Tha tells us about spirits living in some parts of the forest, where any of the locals would go, some ancient places in the jungle or some abandoned temples. It can be a tall tree, where a spirit lives or a river inhabited by dragon spirits. If you are alone in the jungle, they will talk to you and try to make you one of them. If you are not strong enough to resist or don’t know which of medicine in the forest you have to take to protect yourself from it, you are lost. 

“If local people die outside of the village by accident we don’t bring them back. We bury them there." Tha says. He tells us about a guy who drown in a river last year and after “he was dead already, he became a spirit". Another guy was accidentally shot dead by hunters after being mistaken for a buffalo. He also became a spirit. When it is so, when people die outside, all the village has to follow a strict mourning period of three days where you are not allowed to leave the village. People have to find a special medicine, a root, that you have to place all along the village line. To circle it, to protect the people from spirits coming to the village. Once in three years they sacrifice a buffalo, some pigs and chickens to attend the spirits. They give them to eat, to make the spirit not hungry enough to get the local people. 

Another night I woke up from loud music middle in the night and I was really pissed off that drunk people. In the morning we met Tha for breakfast and while he was cooking he told us about yesterday night and about the host of this party, who also became a spirit for some time. Looked like they have been drinking so hard that night, that this guy passed out for short and was a spirit for a while. They sacrificed a chicken to satisfy the spirits thirst and fulfilled a ritual to banish the spirit and free the men. “Who are you?" – they said to the spirit “Name yourself! Why are you here?! You must leave!" It sounded so bizarre and dramatic, that you could hardly believe this conversation. Later that morning I met that guy and the hangover was literally written in his face. 

Another day Tha told us about his dream, when 3 spirits visited him in his sleep. With long tongues and black, wideopened eyes they came for him, some of the local people, and his dead father appeared in his dream to protect him from the spirits. “Why are you here?" his father said in his dream. “You must leave!" We’ve been talking evenings through, Tha told us a lot more of these stories, while we’ve been cooking and eating dinner in his small hut full of smoke and surrealistic world of Khmus trust in spirits, dragons, shamans, flying people and other strange things. 

After dinner one night we went for a walk to the ricefields not far away from the village. Moonless, the sky was glowing and full of stars. And down all over the ricefields in the darkness billions of fireflies were flying around. At this point I was little bit jealous of these people living here in this magical world full of spirits, stars and fireflies.

約從一週前我們就待在寮國北部的一個偏僻村子,這是一個只有五百多人住的小村落,但這裡的生活是很忙的,非常有活力的村落,所有的世代都在這。小朋友們跟著我們每一腳步,老人家則好奇盯著看,這是以喀木族組成的村落,是寮國北部最大族群。他們約二十年前搬遷來這定居,並見證了由寮國的公司與中國在原生森林濫伐只為了做傢俱木材,老虎、野象與稀有動物自此消失,我們很遺憾地看見樹林的現況只能想像曾經。

這裡的生活完全依賴著週邊環境,稻田、叢林、氣候、自然界,他們自給自足,製造任何生活必需品,竹湯匙、刀子、編織袋、建造高腳木屋與茅屋,他們親近自然,並從中取得平衡,過去幾天來我吃到的食物都來自叢林,竹筍、香菇、還有綠葉,我們很幸運的遇上竹筍季,叢林很多可食性的,但也很多是有毒的。

「我們不是佛教或基督教,我們相信靈魂。」Tha說,一個成為我們朋友的在地導遊年輕人。似乎幽靈遍布在Tha的世界每一角落,而且不只他的,這裡的每一人每一世代強烈地相信幽靈,我實在很難想像他們說的幽靈到底是什麼,沒有清楚的形象,Tha告訴我們那些幽魂住在叢林的某些地方,當地人會去的地方、古老的或者被遺棄的廟宇,它可以是棵高樹,或是龍所棲息的河流,如果你獨自在叢林裡,他們會試著跟你說話,然後把你變成其中一分子,。如果你無法堅強抵抗、如果你不知道要採哪種藥材來守護,你將會迷失。


Tha說「如果有人在野外死了,我們不會帶他回村裡,我們把他葬在叢林,他會變成幽靈。」,然後他接著說一個去年淹死在河流裡的一個男子「他已經死了,變成了一個幽魂了。」,同年還有一個男子在叢林中被獵人誤認為是水牛就被槍殺了,也成了個幽魂,就這樣,當人們在野外意外身亡,村民們必需嚴格的服喪三天,這期間任何人不許離開村莊,並且要找到一種特殊的根類植物延著村子圍起來,這樣才可以抵抗幽靈入侵。每三年有一次的祭祀,將牛、豬、雞獻給幽靈,讓祂們吃個夠,這樣才不會因為飢餓而帶走村民。

有晚,我因為吵囃的音樂而醒,我那時真討厭那些喝醉的人。一早我們去找Tha吃早餐,在他做早餐時他告訴我們昨晚舉辦派對的那個人的事,他被幽魂附身了!似乎他們是喝太多了,這個人暈了過去然後被附身。那時他們殺了隻雞當祭品,完成了儀式來阻止幽魂侵犯。「你是誰?」他們問幽魂,「說出你的名字!為什麼你在這?你必須離開!」這聽起來很不尋常而且很誇張,很難相信這段對話,然後同個早晨我遇到了被附身的這個人,很明顯地他臉上一副宿醉樣。

隔日,Tha告訴我們一個他的夢,有三個有著長舌、黑色大眼珠的幽魂出現在夢裡,他們還是村裡的老人,然後他過世的爸爸出現來保護他「你們為什麼在這裡?」,爸爸在夢中趕走幽靈「你們趕快退散!」,我們整夜都在聊這話題,Tha在我們煮晚餐、吃晚餐時,說了好多這類的故事,那時我們在他小小的只亮著一盞燈泡的高腳屋裡,冒著炊飯的煙、伴著超現實的喀木族所相信的靈、龍、薩滿、飛在天上的人和那些奇奇怪怪的。

晚餐後,我們散步到離村子不遠的稻田,沒有月光,但天空因繁星而閃亮著,深黑的稻田竟閃爍著無數的螢火蟲,這時候我可真羨慕這群人活在一個充滿幽魂的奇幻世界,星光與螢火。



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