Calling Back the Souls
The Lao believe that each person inherits 32 souls (Khouans) which act as guardians over various parts of the body.  Occasionally these souls wander away or get lost and must be called back and charmed to stay and provide protection.  The animist rite to call back the souls, known in Lao as Sou Khouan, is generally performed at significant events such as the birth of a child, illness or death, and departures.  Officiated by a knowledgeable and respected elder known as a Maw Khouan (soul doctor), the rite commences with communal chanting around a sacred silver receptacle (Pa Khouan) adorned with folded banana leaves and fragrant white flowers.  A length of white cotton thread originating at the Pa Khouan encircles the participants.  Candles are lit and participants touch the silver receptacle while the protective souls are summoned and charmed to stay with sweet words and offerings of sticky rice, boiled eggs, chicken, sweets, and alcohol.  The propitious white cotton thread is then cut into short lengths and tied around the recipient's wrists, a gesture that symbolically connects the souls.


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2002 SEAsite Laos.  Calling Back the Souls