The fat, hog-tied sow kicked and squealed as the slight men hoisted her up onto their shoulders and walked towards us. Teeth gnashing and foaming spittle spraying from her open snout, she screamed in fury and terror. The men swung her toward where I sat in the truck’s passenger bed. Instinctively, I leapt aside.
They stopped short of the bed, however, and landed the beast with a thud on the rear bumper, by my feet. Struggling for her life, she squirmed as they strapped it to the metal grate. I returned to my seat on the edge of the bench that was already packed to overflowing with passengers. Her eyes wide and seething with fear, the sow looked up at me for help as we took off and careened up the dusty, treacherous mountain roads. I tied my hankerchief across my face to keep from choking on the thick plumes of dust and black exhaust, hanging on tight to avoid being bounced out the back of the truck.
The young man across from me in a green soccer jersey smiled and explained it all in one word: “Basi.”
Basi is an ancient animist ritual practiced in Laos. Humans are believed to have mulitple souls that occasionally wander off, causing an imbalance within the person. The ceremony reunites these souls in the body.
A basi ceremony involves a sacrifice of a chicken or dog—and for special occasionsm a hog or mua, pronounced “moo.” The participants sit in a circle around an elaborate centerpiece, known as the sukhuan, made of banana leaves rolled into a conical “party hat” shape and adorned with marigolds and a single white string. Offerings of food and liquor are made to entice the wunderlust souls to return. At the end, participants tie the threads around their wrists and wear them until they fall off, indicating the need for another ceremony.
Here are some other animist rituals in Laos:
Though I’m not an animist, the fractured modern world sometimes makes me feel like my souls have been scattered, too. Unfortunately, I’m a vegetarian. I wonder if a fried tofu sacrifice would appease the spirits?