The Urak Lawoi floating boat tradition, known as the Pra Jak boat ceremony, is a rare and ancient custom of the Urak Lawoi community. This unique event takes place on the full moon days of the 6th and 11th lunar months, bringing together the Urak Lawoi people for the Pra Jak Boat ceremony at the beach.
This ceremony serves as a mean to dispel misfortune and involves singing and dancing to the rhythmic melodies of the Rong Ngeng songs.
This cherished tradition has been handed down through generations, originating from the Urak Lawoi people's earliest ancestors. When the time for this event arrives, they return to their hometowns to celebrate alongside their families and fellow community members.
The day Before the boat parade:
In the morning, the men will begin to build a boat for the ceremony, they use the White Cheesewood tree and the Ra Gam tree because the wood is quite soft and easy to work with. Every year, a new boat is constructed, and it changes hands to different builders, creating an annual rotation. When constructing the boat, they begin with the keel, which is made from White Cheesewood tree, and work from the bow (front) to the stern (back) before moving on to the other components.
The women create sweetmeat in seven different colors and prepare a betel nut as offerings for the spirits at their ancestral shrine. In the afternoon, they visit this sacred location and inform the spirits about the upcoming celebration. Tor Mor communicates with the spirits in the ancient Urak Lawoi language, inviting them to participate in the ceremony with the Urak Lawoi descendants.
Day One: Boat parade
The Urak Lawoi people parade the boat which is beautifully decorated with flowers, flags, and various sculptures. This parade is a joyous occasion, with everyone dressed in vibrant colors and dancing alongside the boat. Beer and liquor are essential parts of the festivities.
Upon reaching the ceremony site, they circle the shrine three times with their boat before placing it on the beach. They play three different Rong Ngeng songs, during which they place nail clippings, hair, and coins in the boat. This symbolizes the removal of negative energy from their bodies and its transferred to the boat. Following three Rong Ngeng songs, modern music takes over, and the new generation dances the night away.
At high tide, in the evening, they engage in a spirited water-splashing activity. They split into two groups, one in the sea with containers to collect water, and the other on land. When the waves roll in, they scoop up water and splash it towards the group on the shore.
Day Two: Take the boat to the sea and Pa Dak sticks ceremony.
At dawn, the men carry the boat to the sea, while the rest of the community sing a song to send the boat off, taking away negative energy with it. Some Urak Lawoi people also seek blessings from their ancestors' spirits to ensure the happiness of future generations.
The men lower the boat onto a long-tail boat and transport it to the middle of the ocean before releasing it. They believe that if the boat returns to the shore, it signifies the return of negativity until the next Pra Jak Boat Ceremony.
The ceremony continues, culminating in a Pa Dak sticks and holy water ceremony on the final night. The Pa Dak sticks are removed from the ceremonial site and replanted around the village's perimeter and in the village's centre. This is done with the belief that the sticks will ward off evil spirits and prevent their reentry.
The Prajak boat, crafted from White Cheesewood and Ra Gam trees, is a significant symbol. It represents the vessel that transports souls, both of people and animals, to another world. Beautifully carved Ra Gam wood pieces adorn the boat, with a bird on the bow symbolizing To Burong, an ancestor who controls the rain and the wind. Carved fish teeth represent To Bigong, an ancestor who was a shark, and a snake symbolizes Akhoberatai, an ancestor who was a snake. The Ra Gam dolls on the boat carry the suffering and illness of each family member, offering it to the ancestors to take to the Kununghirai. Those who participate in the entire floating boat ceremony are seen as individuals who have transcended suffering and illness, with the promise of a future filled with happiness and good fortune.
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