Once a year, in late June/early July, the spirits wake up, don masks and other accoutrements, and take to the streets of Dan Sai, a small town in eastern Thailand near the Lao border, for two days of merriment and innocent mayhem. The timing coincides with the beginning of the Rainy Season and the planting of the rice crop.
‘Phi’ is Thai for ‘ghost’, or ‘spirit’ (pronounced as ‘pee’); ‘Ta’ (technically it sounds like ‘dtah’) means ‘eyes’; and ‘Khon’ refers to the famous Thai traditional, masked dance discipline. Most of the masks are made of traditional materials: a large ‘huat’, or basket for steaming sticky rice, is attached to the hard end of a large palm frond, thus forming the now-famous face and ‘hat’ configuration. Various media are used to embellish the creations including enamel paints, carved wood, sawdust paste, curved rattan, stickers, etc. We also spied the more traditional palm leaf sunhats being used with masks by one group, as well as papier mache masks on different types of ogres.
Costumes have also evolved from pieced collections of old scrap materials of traditional pattern, to colorful new, pieced outfits in polyester or cotton. Phallic accoutrements took the form of sword handles, guns, tree branches, etc. Halloween meets Mardi Gras and Carnivale, with a Thai twist.
A carnival atmosphere reigns throughout the town, with throngs of the colorful, masked tricksters brandishing phallic accessories, photographers equally rampant, and families out in full force. Blatantly bawdy, this is also a fertility festival as evidenced by the many versions of phalluses, and invocations of good luck for the new agricultural cycle.
While not “antiques”, we consider these masks to be of ethnographic importance as this celebration is the only ritual use of masks in Thailand
For more photos and an account of the festival, please see our blog.
See our: Phi Ta Khon Masks & Accessories for sale