In spring 2016, the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, displayed twenty-four photos by Katy Clune. The exhibit, “Home in a New Place: Making Laos in Morganton, North Carolina,” encompassed text panels, temple banners from Laos, as well as two examples of Hmong story cloths. The opening reception featured special displays, Lao hors d’oeuvres by Vansana and Vanvisa Nolintha of Bida Manda (Raleigh, NC), remarks by Clune and Toon Phapphayboun, and a baci blessing ceremony led by Vansana Nolintha.
The exhibit will travel to the History Museum of Burke County, Morganton, NC, in fall 2016 (details forthcoming). A selection of Clune’s photos will also be on view at the FedEx Global Education Center at UNC-Chapel Hill in a fall 2016 exhibit organized by UNC Global.
Photo Exhibit Selections
Morganton’s resident monk, Somchit Sengdavone (left), and two visiting monks from Charlotte receive blessings from the laity at the Pi Mai celebration.
Pi Mai, or Lao New Year, is celebrated in mid-April. To welcome the rainy season and bring good luck, people young and old spray each other with water.
A statue of Nang Torlanee--a Mother Earth character in Buddhist legend—welcomes visitors to Wat Lao Sayaphoum.
This young girl is pouring water in a trough shaped like a naga, or protective snake. The water will gently flow out and wash the temple’s Buddha figures, a Pi Mai tradition.
Three young girls, dressed as princess in traditional Lao clothing, pose with teenagers following the Pi Mai princess parade.
Following a small parade around temple grounds, the young girls dressed as princesses pose for photos and receive gifts at Pi Mai.
At Pi Mai (Lao New Year), the Morganton community reenacts an old folktale with seven (or more!) girls dressed as princesses.
The monk’s home is a double-wide trailer and the worship space at Wat Lao Sayaphoum is in a transformed carport.
The altar at Wat Lao Sayaphoum is resplendent with a large central Buddha donated by the Phapphayboun family and countless other items given by the community.
Monks chant during the evening ceremony at a gilded, highly ornamented temple in Laos. This is the magical, sacred space referenced at Wat Lao Sayaphoum. (Luang Prabang, Laos)
Morganton’s resident monk, Somchit Sengdavone (left) with an elder visiting monk, the Venerable Jhiteeyanao.
Morganton’s resident monk, Somchit Sengdavone, blesses worshipers by sprinkling water during the Pi Mai ceremony.
Women prepare an offering bowl with money and treats before a temple ceremony.
Without fresh banana leaves or marigolds, offerings at Wat Lao Sayaphoum are often plastic versions from Laos or Thailand—or improvised with American holiday decorations.
Chilies for sale at the Hickory, NC, flea market. Peppers, sticky rice, and other Asian vegetables are farmed by Hmong in the surrounding region.
Daraphone Phrakousonh, owner of Asian Fusion Kitchen, donates pho to the Morganton temple to sell and fundraise at large festivals.
The Phapphayboun celebrate Vietnamese New Year (Têt) to honor Noubath’s father. The centerpiece of the family table is always a whole barbecue pig.
Sticky rice is a staple in Lao cuisine. This short grain is soaked, steamed without water, and served in thip khao baskets.
Toon Phapphayboun’s mother, Noubath, presses leftover sticky rice into patties to dry in the NC sun and fry into crunchy crackers.