The Sweet Breath of Lao

Threatened by the sudden influx of outsiders, Rilaoan families spend increasing amounts of time in the Green Bite catacombs, returning to an ancient family ritual. The ritual celebrates the life of loved ones upon their death. Under Lao tradition, when a follower dies, the family makes desserts based on the deceased’s life. If the life was good, the desserts are sweet; a troubled life is celebrated with bitter desserts. The Law is that the truth must be told.

Trading Muka tree oil for sugar, the once-abandoned catacombs become transformed by elaborate constructions of chocolate and candies.

In this photographed tableau, the life of a child is celebrated in the form of a coffin made of candy and encrusted by various treats. A death mask at the head of the coffin captures the essential spirit of the beloved. Large posters of children playing surround the the coffin, to reflect on the happy times in the child’s brief life. At the end of the ritual, the dessert is handed out, and the body is given to the sea.