National Geographic : 1966 Jul
EKTACHROMEBY PETER KUNSTADTERL) N.G .S . "Have we captured a wandering soul?" Two Karen spirit specialists, called in on a medical case, believe the balanced egg proves that they have trapped one of ailing Ai Dam's 32 souls inside the shell. They fed the egg to the sick man. He recovered, and all agreed on the wisdom of their diagnosis. several days, the villagers decided they had guessed the wrong spirit after all. It was thought that perhaps his dead father's spirit was causing the problem. Pu Tip and I and several young men went to the cemetery trail just outside the village. Pu Tip called to Ai Dam's father to come and partake of the feast that had been prepared. As he led the spirit to the altar, the other men stopped Pu Tip. They asked the spirit-who was now inside Pu Tip's body-whether he was really Ai Dam's father, and told Pu Tip to go back and make sure he had the right spirit. This double-checking is always done when spirits of the dead are called by name. 152 Pu Tip went back, called again, then returned with the right spirit and fed him. When Ai Dam still did not respond, outside consultants were called in. They were not Lua but Karens, who live in villages scattered in the same region. The Karens said the prob lem was due to several causes, including a spirit who required the sacrifice of a large bronze drum. This would cost $80 to $100, far more than any Lua villager could make in a year selling rice in Ban Mae Sariang. "Never mind," the Karens said, "the spirits will not know the difference, so we will make a fake drum out of an old cooking pot and give that instead." Finally, the Karens had to summon one of Ai Dam's 32 souls that had wandered away. They went to the forest and called to the soul, coaxing it into a hard-boiled egg, which they then carried to Ai Dam's house. Stooping at the bottom of the ladder, the two men stuck a bamboo pipe stem into the ground. If the egg balanced on the stem (left), it would prove that the errant soul was indeed inside. Visit Ends With Harvest of Souls The Karens, however, had been sharing sacrifices of plai with the spirits, and by this time their coordination was a trifle faulty. After repeated tries, they managed to balance the battered egg and carried it, and the soul, up the steps. Ai Dam ate the egg-and, sure enough, he was well for the harvest. The harvest lasts through the long autumn, since the Lua plant at different times to make sure enough hands will be available to bring in each crop. During the harvest, ceremonies and sacrifices call the souls of the rice from the fields and make sure that the souls accom pany the rice into the barns. Another cere mony calls back to the village, before the winter sets in, the souls of any villagers that might have wandered away on the upland fields during the harvest. After the souls are brought home, the vil lage is closed and a ceremony is held for the village guardians. Wooden guns, swords, and spears are carved for these spirits. Thus armed, they can protect Pa Pae from robbers, famine, and disease for another year. But now Sally and I were also being called home. The villagers of Pa Pae came to say goodbye. Loong Ta came with a bottle of plai and offered it to our house spirits, asking them to accompany us and take care of us on the long journey to America. We both feel deeply that the blessings of Pa Pae and its spirits have been with us ever since.