Rocket Festival in Amphoe Selaphum


Rocket Festival (Bun Bang Fai)
Amphoe Selaphum, Roi-et, 19 and 20 June 2004


(Photo: Nils)

Beautiful girls lead the procession

Nils writes: I finally had the chance to witness the famous Rocket Festival, a (non-Buddhist) tradition observed only in parts of Roi-et and Yasothon provinces to ask ‘the Gods’ for rain at the start of the rainy season. The exact date and organizing villages change every year, but it is usually held on a weekend in the middle or at the end of June. Participants from around 5 or 6 villages will come together and fire their self-made rockets into the sky. This year my girlfriend’s home village was organizing the event.

On Saturday 19 June there was a procession through the village with loud Isaan music blasting through the big speakers installed on pushcarts and traditional dances performed by local girls and women who are housewives and farmers in everyday life, donning thick make-up and colourful dresses for the occasion.


(Photo: Nils)

Taking a rest


(Photo: Nils)

Dancers


(Photo: Nils)

Loudspeaker cart


(Photo: Nils)

Comical display


(Photo: Nils)

Dancers


(Photo: Nils)

Dancers


(Photo: Nils)

Drums


(Photo: Nils)

Loudspeaker cart

The farang walking through the village was greeted with curious (shy, friendly) looks, attempts to communicate in very broken English, and sometimes offers to have a drink. Photos had to be taken both with relatives and strangers who were excited to have this rare opportunity. As you can imagine, the message of my arrival spread like wildfire. Everyone was having big fun. In the late afternoon, they also held a dance contest between the 6 moo (village divisions) by the temple.


(Photo: Nils)

Beautiful girls in the procession


(Photo: Nils)

Beautiful girls in the procession


(Photo: Nils)

Dancers


(Photo: Nils)

Blind musician


(Photo: Nils)

Preparations for launch

And then the big day: rockets everywhere! Small rockets, medium-sized rockets, big rockets – and the giant ones for the main competition. Perhaps 15 or 20 of these were started over the course of the day from a special wooden ‘launch pad’ erected in the rice fields some 300 m away (apparently for safety reasons) from the crowd gathering at the edge of the village. Heavy gambling was going on every time a participant was preparing his projectile for the start: will it fail or will it lift off, and if yes, will it last longer than x seconds? Bookies made their rounds and banknotes were waved in the air….


(Photo: Nils)

The ‘grandstand’ at the village edge


(Photo: Nils)

Monk walking through the rice fields


(Photo: Nils)

Monk crossing in front of the launch pad


(Photo: Nils)

Rocket launch


(Photo: Nils)

The jury watches the launch

A jury of four guys introduced the competitors and told stories and jokes to entertain the crowd during breaks. When I entered the scene, the man at the microphone proclaimed, “And today we have a foreign visitor here” (he did not say farang or mak sida, but rather used the polite chao tarng chart) and then in English: “Hello. What’s your name. Thank you.” and I waved back at the jury.


(Photo: Nils)

Another launch


(Photo: Nils)

Smoke after the launch

After a successful launch, they would use binoculars to follow the trace of the rocket soaring into the sky (they go quite high , I can tell you…) and determine the official time – until it has burned out, I suppose. The longest time I witnessed was an impressive 243 seconds! (Don’t know how they could see the rocket for so long, considering the cloud cover on that day, but its remains must have landed far behind the neighbour village.) The overall winner gets a prize of 10,000 baht, a little fortune in that part of the country. However, if the rocket fails upon start, the owner (or construction team) is thrown into the mud of the ricefields (remember, beginning of the rainy season!) under the cheers of the crowd – or so I was told by my girlfriend.


(Photo: Nils)

The rocket’s trail in the sky

All 3 or 4 starts we saw (interrupted for 20 minutes by a downpour) were successful, however. Later, after returning home, I could still see and hear many more rockets lift off from the distance – leaving a trail of smoke in the sky and generating a sound like a starting jetplane. On the other hand, I did see a couple of guys covered in dried mud walking down a street, so the story seems to be true indeed…


(Photo: Nils)

Rocket man and the author


(Photo: Nils)

The jury ready to watch the launch


(Photo: Nils)

Another launch


(Photo: Nils)

Smoke again

For my part, I got stuck deep in the mud when trying to take a photo. Fortunately I wasn’t wearing anything expensive, or real shoes, for that matter, but only shorts and traditional flip-flops (“Satellite” brand, purchased one day earlier for 39 baht). So it wasn’t a major problem, though those slippers were a bit hard to retrieve. The ground can really be treacherous at this time of the year and sometimes you break in through a dry upper layer and end up in the sludge!


(Photo: Nils)

Watching the launch

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