“poi Ton Tee” – The Kayan New Year

Jurgen

Moderator
Subscribed
Oct 23, 2009
682
129
43
www.chopard.org
The “Poi Ton Tee” celebration (also called “Kay Htoe Boe” in Karenni and “Kan Kwan” in Kayan language) is the Kayan new year festival. It takes place, usually and depending of the moon’s position, sometimes at the end of March. In Mae Hong Son province, it is mostly organised in the two remaining major Kayan villages, Huay Pu Keng and Huay Sua Tao.


I have not found publications, in English, describing this religious tradition and I am grateful to Nai Noung, Huay Pu Keng’s village headman, for his help to get an inside in his people’s history and traditions (for more information about the Kayan long neck tribe in Mae Hong Son province see my end-note with references to GT-Rider publications).


H1JC2521-Edit-XL.jpg

Nai Noung, Huay Pu Keng’s village headman


NB the information provided in my write-up are meant to be captions for my pictures and have no ethnographic pretensions.




ABATARAORI



« Abataraori », the Kayan salute will greet visitors at the “Kan Kwan” (Poi Ton Tee) festival. In march 2018 Huay Pu Keng performed the thirty’s anniversary of this celebration in the village, an ancestral tradition. It was reinitiated after they had left, as refugees, their Kayah home state, now under Burmese administration.


Huay Pu Keng, sometimes known as Nam Phiang Din (the name of the neighboring village), is one of the three remaining Kayan settlements, open to visitors, in Mae Hong Son province. The place can be reached on paved roads, at a distance of 24 kilometers, outside Mae Hons Son, to the downstream Pai river shore. From there, small boats, operated by the locals, take visitors over the stream.

T2JC0163_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-XL.jpg

Huay Pu Keng located on the Pai river’s north rim, downstream of Mae Hong Son


“Poi Ton Tee” (Kay Htoe Boe) is a three days celebration with various highlights. It is an Earth’s genesis commemoration, reflecting the World’s creation by their own god, through a pole planted in the soil. Every year, the Karenni erect a symbolic decorated stem and celebrate around it for luck and good health.

H1JC0646-Edit-X2.jpg

"Kan Kwan” the traditional Karenni religion





First day: felling the tree



The celebration begins with the task of fetching an appropriate tree, in the nearby forest. While several species can provide suitable stems, the choice is often limited by availability in the neighborhood. The preferred wood is: “Ton Wa “(Eugenia Jambolan), the well-known “Teak” (Tectona grandis) and, now-a-days, often “Ton Tung” (Dipterocarpus of the Yang family, the Gurjan tree) whose leaves are used to build thatched roofs.


For this annual celebration, the Kayan villages get the official authorization to choose and take out an adequate timber. Some days, before the ceremony, the village shaman explores the forest to localize a suitable tree and chicken bones divination is performed to confirm or reject the choice.


Early, on the morning of the festival’s first day, the tree is felt, and, after a first trimming, the chosen trunk is slide down to a clearing where the villagers are assembled. It is than further cleaned and roughly sculpted to its draft form.

H1JC0655_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

The chosen tree is pruned and slide down the sloop


H1JC0660_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

A rough carving gives the trunk its draft shape


T2JC0179_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Several men are helping in the peeling and carving process


H1JC0668_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Carving the rough shape


H1JC0676_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

The task to take away the bark


H1JC0690_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-XL.jpg

Preparing the stem's shape on site


H1JC0680_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

A group of Kayan waiting for the stem to be ready


H1JC0704_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

A group of Karenni waiting to transport the stem


Once the tree stem is debarked and roughly shaped, the villagers upload it on their shoulders and, in a parade, bring it to the village. The number of load-bearing men is not fixed but linked to the trunk’s actual weight.

H1JC0730_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-XL.jpg

The parade, led by the village headman


H1JC0751_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

The heavy trunk is carried on the villager’s shoulders


H1JC0778-Edit-X2.jpg

Parade to the village with the new pole


H1JC0782-Edit-X2.jpg

Transporting the heavy load to its destination


H1JC0786-X2.jpg

Arrival at the boat landing place and continuing toward the dwelling


When the parade enters the village center it is greeted by Kayan ladies lining up to spatter the procession. The water is blessed with “Sompoi”, a dry fruit from an Acacia tree, which is believed to bring good luck and is widely used for this purpose in the region. The splatching itself is done with Eugenia leaves (Ton Wa leaves) the most important tree in the Karenni’s mythology.

H1JC0796_Luminar2018-edit-X2.jpg

Blessing with water and Eugenia leaves


A specific sacred site is reserved to erect the “Ton Tee” stems, slightly uphill, on the village’s side. Once the parade reaches this place, the newly cut trunk is first kept horizontally, supported by easels. The following tasks are the stem’s final carving and the preparation of its symbolic decoration. While knowledgeable craftsmen perform these operations, the other villagers dance and play music on the compound.

H1JC0856-Edit-X2.jpg

At destination, the tree gets its final carving and decoration


H1JC0871_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Karenni performing dances and music on the sacred compound


H1JC0880_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

A group of Karenni with their music instruments



After a meeting of the Kayan villages leaders from Mae Hong Son province, a choice is made to organize the “Poi Ton Tee” festival in one of the dwellings. The other communities are then invited to participate to the common celebration. Now-a-days, representatives of the Karenni ethnic group are mostly found in “Huay Pu Keng”, “Huay Sua Tao”, and in “Huay Pu Long” (on the Burmese side). The once important settlement, in Nai Soi (Kayan Tahar) is nearly deserted, but a large group is still hosted in the UNCHR managed camp (“Suan Opayop” refugee camp 1, near Nai Soi).


The yearly ceremony provides a seldom meeting opportunity, and, in modern times, taking picture is, of course, part of the entertainment.

H1JC0887-Edit-X2.jpg

Participants line up for a group picture


H1JC0898_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

A group of (mostly) “Red Karen” (Karenni)


H1JC0904-Edit-XL.jpg

Red Karen in traditional costume


T2JC0303-Edit-X2.jpg

Portrait of Red Karen ladies





Second day: sport and rejoicing



While some craftsmen are busy to put the last touch to the new pole’s decoration, the younger villagers spent the day in sportive competitions like football and volleyball.


T2JC0511_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

The new trunk carved and adorned with symbolic decorations


The tree’s decoration is highly symbolic with the sun at its peak and other elements, like the stars, the moon, some meaningful animals and a long piece of cloth representing a ladder for the spirits.


Next to the stem is the “kantan”, a podium with offerings to the gods and to the guardian spirits. The original stem was an Eugenia, the first tree grown in the World; as this species is now scarce, other trees are also used for the poles.


H1JC0915-4-XL.jpg

A detailed panels (in Thai language only) explains the pole’s symbolic decorations


The Karenni play some traditional music instruments during their ceremonies; for instance, auspicious skin drums and bronze klon gongs, as well as bamboo flutes


H1JC0922_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Kayan traditional music instruments


At dusk, while the villagers gather to welcome important guests, the former year’s poles are waiting for a new companion to be erected the next day.

H1JC0927_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Previous years poles at sunset


High ranking officials, of Mae Hong Son province, are invited for the evening’s celebration. The villagers line up on the boat landing place to ceremoniously welcome their guests.


H1JC0979_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

A group of Karenni waiting for their guests

H1JC0994_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Dwellers of different villages are assembled an prepare to receive the officials


H1JC1001_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Group picture of Karenni from different villages


H1JC1011_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Group of Kayan ladies


H1JC1032_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Evening reception of the officials from Mae Hong Son province


H1JC1063_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

A colorful parade leads the visitors to the festive place

H1JC1079_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

The shaman leads the parade to the sacred compound


The guests are invited to dinner and entertained with traditional dances and music on a stage.

H1JC1154-Edit-X2.jpg

Kayan ladies on stage performing a traditional dance


H1JC1242-Edit-2-X2.jpg

Kayan performing a dance on stage


H1JC1160-Edit-XL.jpg

Young Kayan on stage


T2JC0447-X2.jpg

Young Kayan in traditional costumes


H1JC1252-Edit-X2.jpg

Kayan couples performing a traditional dance

H1JC1270-Edit-X2.jpg

A group of Kayan playing music and dancing on stage


H1JC1301-X2.jpg

Karenni performing on stage


H1JC1313-Edit-X2.jpg

Kayan with bamboo flutes playing traditional music on stage


The evening’s stage performance last till about nine o’clock; visitors who did not check in for the night are then ferried back, across the Pai river, in the village’s dinghies.

H1JC1335_AuroraHDR2018-edit_AuroraHDR2019-edit_0-Edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Crossing back the Pai river in local boats






Third day: Putting the new pole in place



During the first two days, the new pole has be felt, transported to the sacred compound and adorned with a symbolic decoration. Now, on the festival’s third day, it is waiting to be erected, near to its siblings from the former years.

T2JC0511_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

The decorated pole, ready to be erected


T2JC0526_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Early morning, on the third day, everything is ready for the ceremony


T2JC0521-Edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Karenni from different villages are assembled on the ceremonial place


T2JC0537_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

The new pole is moved around the place


H1JC1366_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Slowly, step by step, the heavy stem is lifted and put in position


T2JC0553_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Drawn with cords and pushed with wooden shafts the stem is slowly raised


T2JC0559_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

The heavy trunk is slowly moving upward


T2JC0569_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Finally, the pole takes its erected position and is consolidated in place



Once the new pole is standing, another important part of the festival begins; it is the chicken bone divination, followed by the thanksgiving ceremony.

Reading chicken bones is also practiced in other Asian cultures, for instance by the Khmu of Laos. Various legends explain this practice, particularly the fact that books where easily destroyed and that even scriptures on leather could be lost and even eaten by animals. The science of divination, on its side, can be learned and transmitted from generation to generation. It is not only exercised by the shaman, but used by anybody who has learned it.

The tight bones of sacrificed chicken are examined, and small bamboo straws are inserted in existing wholes. The relative position and inclination of the sticks gives the necessary clues to the appraiser. This divination method plays an important role in the Karenni life and is used in all important occasions.

H1JC1427_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-XL.jpg

A knowledgeable person reading chicken bones


T2JC0616-Edit-XL.jpg

Small wooden sticks are inserted in the bones' holes for the divination


H1JC1456-Edit-Edit-XL.jpg

The following part of the ceremony is the thanksgiving around the poles


H1JC1460_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Thanksgiving prayers by the participants


H1JC1474-Edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Finally, dwellers from the various Karenni villages, perform traditional dances


H1JC1495_AuroraHDR2018-edit-XL.jpg

Dances accompanied by traditional instruments around the sacred place


H1JC1562_AuroraHDR2019-edit-Edit-XL.jpg

The decorated new pole is standing near to its siblings


H1JC1588-Edit-X2.jpg

Karenni from different villages dance and play traditional instruments


T2JC0694-Edit-X2.jpg

A group of Karenni from Camp 1


T2JC0592-Edit-XL.jpg

A Kayan man in traditional dress


T2JC0661-Edit-XL.jpg

A Kayan man playing the bamboo flute


T2JC0691-Edit-XL.jpg

A Kayan man in traditional dress


T2JC0653_AuroraHDR2018-edit-Edit-X2.jpg

Offerings on the spirits altar



The religious ceremony comes to an end at mid-day, but the festivities will go on for the rest of the third day. Neighbors, friends and visitors from Mae Hong Son invade the village; they are invited in private houses to eat and drink and enjoy the Kayan hospitality.



TARANGBANA” (thank you)





----------------------------------------------------------------------

NOTES

This is my third write-up of a series of stories about the Mae Hong Son region and the Kayan tribe. The first stories “Mae Hong Son Nostalgia” and “The Road to Nai Soi” can be found on these links:

Mae Hong Son Nostalgia
The Road To Nai Soi (karen Long Neck)


Kayan tribe write-ups on GT-Rider:

David’s comprehensive story with historic background:
The Long Necks


My other Kayan stories:
A Visit To Mae Hong Son's Kayan Tribes.

Mae Hong Son loop - twenty years later


An updated edition of David’s popular “Mae Hong Son Loop” map, the 6th edition, was released in February 2018. It is not only an indispensable travel companion and complements to GT-Rider’s forum information, it is valuable souvenirs and even a collector’s items.

Here is the reference link to the map: 2018 Gtr Mae Hong Son Loop Map

MHS%20Map%20Cover-XL.jpg




















 
Last edited:

GTR-Admin

Administrator
Staff member
Mar 22, 2016
181
99
28
Thailand
Hi Jurgen - thanks for your efforts in posting this enlightening explanation of Karenni culture. The photographs are a truly superb illustration of the practices, the people and their traditional dress. Absolutely stunning, and I'm sure other readers will also be captivated by the text and imagery...
 

Moto-Rex

Moderator
Subscribed
Jan 5, 2008
953
318
63
Great report Jurgen.
Thanks for posting The Poi Ton Tee celebration which must have been an interesting event to witness.
Beautiful photos.

Moto-Rex
 

Jurgen

Moderator
Subscribed
Oct 23, 2009
682
129
43
www.chopard.org
Thank you, friends, for reading my write-up and for commenting. I hope that showing interest to the Kayan’s culture will help them to keep their traditions alive.


We are very fortunate, in North Thailand, not only because of the fabulous meander of various routes, but also for the ethnic diversity of people living in the region, just along our itineraries. They provide additional incentives for trips to many joyful and colorful experiences, during their festivals.
 

King of Jars

Ol'Timer
Subscribed
Feb 27, 2008
90
26
18
63
Nongprue, Cholburi, Thailand
Absolut epic, again, Jürgen - thank you for sharing all this with us. This forum would be a much poorer place without your fantastic endeavours and thoroughness in research, photography and write-up.
Thank you and best wishes from Nong Khai - Peter