Local Artisan ‘Odd’ Takes on Grand Peafowl Replica for Lao New Year Parade in Luang Prabang

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Crafting Tradition: Luang Prabang's Stunning Peafowl Replica for the Nang Sangkhan Procession
Peafowl replica Project Manager Ounhuean “Odd” Phommany

In Luang Prabang, Laos, the Nang Sangkhan Procession marks the start of the Lao New Year festivities. At the heart of this annual event is the Miss Lao New Year, who rides atop an animal replica through the town’s main streets. This year, a peafowl replica takes center stage, crafted by seasoned artist Ounhuean “Odd” Phommany and his team of young experts.

Just weeks before Pi Mai, the Lao New Year, 54-year-old Odd received a significant task: crafting a grand peafowl replica. This majestic creation would carry the Miss on two parades through Luang Prabang’s main street on 14 and 16 April. 

Renowned for his skill in crafting boat lanterns, Odd’s reputation for art excellence caught the attention of the Luang Prabang Provincial Office. They entrusted him with this responsibility, providing funding of LAK 65 million (USD 3,079). This is Odd’s first time undertaking such a project, chosen during the Visit Lao Year campaign, where authorities aimed for a replica surpassing those of previous years.

The making of peafowl replica at an early stage (photo: Odd)

“My team and I feel very honored to have been entrusted with this project,” the 54-year-old said, adding that he would gladly take on a similar task next year if given the opportunity.

While it usually requires a team of 20-30 technicians and a timeframe of around two months to craft an animal replica, Odd found himself with just three weeks and six team members to complete the task, leaving no margin for further adjustments. 

Despite the small team size, Odd emphasized that he prefers to prioritize quality over quantity. 

“My team is made up of individuals who excel in their craft. Having a large team is pointless if they lack the necessary skills. I believe in delivering the best quality, and I am confident that our work will be a highlight of this year’s celebrations,” Odd affirmed.

He proudly mentioned that the replica is now nearly finished, at 99 percent completion, and shared that those who had doubts about his skills quickly changed their minds once they saw his work, allowing him to continue without any interruptions.

Odd painting the nearly completed peafowl replica (photo: Lao National Radio)

Discussing the process, Odd acknowledged the challenges of constructing the peafowl due to its intricate details.

“The shape, especially the head and tail, posed difficulties due to their complexity,” he said.

However, by employing various materials like wood, foam, and newspaper, the crafting process became more manageable. This made the painting stage particularly straightforward, resulting in a finely detailed final product, as per Odd’s observations.

Although uncertain about the religious significance of his contribution, Odd takes pride in the offering he has made to the community.

Legend of Kabilaphom

Each year, the town of Luang Prabang hosts the Nang Sangkhan Procession, featuring seven girls who competed in the Miss New Year Queen Competition.To capture attention, contestants deck themselves in layers of intricate attire, each layer a testament to elegance. Their choice of stunning handmade silk dresses and exquisite gold jewelry aims to enhance their chances of winning the prestigious title.

From this contest, the Miss Lao New Year embodies Lao traditional beauty and represents one of the seven daughters of Kabilaphom.

According to the legend, Kabilaphom, the Heavenly King with four faces, was known for posing riddles. Those who answered incorrectly faced beheading. One day, he challenged a wise young man to solve a difficult riddle in seven days. Confident in the challenge, Kabilaphom promised to forfeit his head and kingdom if the man succeeded. 

On the seventh day, the young man solved the riddle. True to his word, Kabilaphom ordered his daughters to present his head to the wise man. However, Kabilaphom’s head was unique and powerful. If it fell to the ground, the earth would burn; if submerged in water, oceans and rivers would boil; if thrown into the air, tornadoes would devastate the earth. To prevent catastrophe, Kabilaphom instructed the young man to bury his head deep underground. 

As a sign of respect, Kabilaphom’s head was paraded in an annual procession on a sacred silver receptacle during the New Year Festival, carried by his seven daughters, each distinguishable by her own characteristics.

Based on the legend, the animal chosen for Nang Sangkhan’s ride changes annually, reflecting the animal representing each daughter. This year, the peafowl, namely Mayurapaksi, serves as the vehicle for the pageant taking the role of the seventh daughter.