Human Flower Project
Bon Pka Prap in Lieu of a Car Wash
A Cambodian tradition makes the act of cash collection decorous and beautiful.
Floral and cash arrangements, a Khmer charitable custom
Wat Khmer Metta, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Vanna So
As a fund raiser, it sure beats a car wash or bake sale.
Till today, we’d never heard of Bon Pka Prak, the Cambodian money flower ceremony. Many thanks to Cindy Liese of the Elyria, Ohio, Chronicle for her announcement:
“A community of Buddhists celebrated the opening of a new temple on the city’s north side with food, music, meditation and the joyous ‘Money Flower’ procession Saturday night.” Liese reports, “Families carried offerings of money in flower arrangements as they circled the temple, which is decorated with colorful panels depicting scenes from the life of the Buddha.”
The event at the Watt Buddhavacanarama in Elyria seems to have been part grand opening, part every-member-canvass, and a human flower project, too. From what we’ve been able to learn this afternoon, the Bon Pka Prak is a floral custom that people of Khmer heritage—Cambodian Buddhists, in particular—often observe when money needs to be raised for a good cause.
Bon Pka Prap, Kampuchean Buddhist Society, 2009, Chicago, Illinois
Photo: Vanna So
In many instances, as in Elyria, the Bon Pra Prak benefits the temple itself. This temple in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, organized a flower ceremony “to collect the money for the renovation of [a] new kitchen.”
Another we came across paid for a new temple roof.
Yet other observances are what we’d think of as more purely charitable. A Fresno, California, society of Cambodians held one Bon Pka Prak to raise funds for victims of Haiti’s earthquake and another to protect Preah Vihear, a temple located near the Thai/Cambodian border. (Preah Vihear is actually a Hindu temple and a UNESCO World Heritage Site that the two nations have fought over for years. )
Bon Pka Prak/Khmer Flower Ceremony, June 2011, Memphis, TN
Photo: Cambodian Cultural Association of Memphis, Tennessee
What exactly is Bon Pka Prak? Blogger chanroth, a Cambodian-American living in Modesto, California, explains,
“Cambodian flower ceremony or money tree ceremony however you like to call it is a ceremony that usually being held every August 6th and 7th. Flower ceremony is a traditional ceremony that is being held every year due to the fact that Khmer people is a believer in believing that by doing this, they will reincarnated to become rich and wealthy. Not just wealthy but as beautiful as the flower as well.
“Many Khmer people would buy flowers and tie money to the flower, which the flower they are holding represent them. It is very interesting that a lot of Khmer people believe in this.”
Bon Pka Prak, Modesto, California, 8/1/2010
Photo: Modesto Cambodian Buddhist Society Inc.
Indeed it is, Chanroth. We find this floral tradition to be “rich” in meanings. It affirms what our Odessa florist-mentor Mark Knox said: that a gift of flowers typically is a plea for “self-recognition.” Chanroth parses the money-flower ceremony in much the same way: “the flower they are holding represent(s) them.”
And as flowers manage to do so well, the blooms of Bon Pra Prak both accentuate AND camouflage the donation. They ornament the abstraction of money meanwhile warming and softening the reality of “cold hard cash.” Honestly, isn’t this a lot more dignified, and a lot less crass, than pledge-driving or passing the hat?
We welcome any further insights into the Khmer money flower ceremony, as practiced anywhere in the world.