Historically, Boun Bang Fai (Rocket festival) was first celebrated many centuries by the Tai people in China’s Yunnan province, the Lao people in Laos and in Esan or North-eastern Thailand, also in Burma and later in Japan. The traditional celebration was considered very important because it was believed to be an event that unites all the people and connects them with heaven and the unknown phenomena.
In Laos, Boun Bang Fai or the Rocket Festival is celebrated during May or early June. It is an annual ceremony and celebration to ask the “God of Rain” (Phra Ya Thaen)
and Naga (Phra Ya Nark) for rain
so that farmers will get good rice harvests. Laotian people still try to maintain and carry on this harmonious tradition wherever they are settled.
On Oct 29, 2005, members of the Lao community of the Washington, D.C. area gathered on the grounds of the Lao temple
or Wat Lao Buddhavong in Manassas, Northern Virginia, to celebrate a historic
event – the presentation of a sample Bang Fai or rocket to officials of the National Air and Space Museum.
Because of its unique characteristics and the life long traditional celebration of Boun Bang Fai or Lao Rocket Festival, Lao Bang Fai was chosen to be displayed along with many great artifacts from various country at the National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia, near Dulles International Airport. The National Air and Space Museum is a part of the Smithsonian Institute of the United States of America.
Mr. Frank H. Winter, curator of Rocketry Division of the National Air and Space Museum tells VOA: “Lao Rocket is special and unique that has a thousand years of traditional celebration associated with this great looking rocket. It would be wonderful to have a Lao Rocket on display in the National Air and Space Museum so that the public can learn from it.”
Mr. Houmpheng Rattana, the maker
of the Bang Fai
that was chosen to
represent Laos in the Museum explains to VOA, “It’s very difficult to find the necessary materials in the United States, especially “rattan” or Vai. We had to use an old “Ka Tor” and baskets that made of rattan, then soaked them in water for days so that we could reuse it to bind the rocket. The Naga head on top of the rocket is symbolic of the Lao people’s belief and the three- headed elephant signifies the land of a Million elephants, an old name for Laos.”
The deputy abbot of the Lao temple, Phra Ajan Chandaphone Mingsisouphanh, who led the religious ceremony told VOA this: “On behalf of the Wat Lao Buddhavong, along with the Lao community of the Greater Washington Metropolitan area, I am is very pleased to have this opportunity to present a sample Lao Rocket to the National Air and Space Museum. This is a historic event that brings us recognition and visibility that we, all Laotians, can be proud of.”
Listen to our audio for more details