The Hmong
Aileen Sprenger:

The Hmong, are an Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Burma. In results of war many also settled in France and the US.


B.C – 400 AD
The first firm Historical account of the Hmong; in China. The Hmong started a constant movement within china to preserve their culture and maintain their freedom. They got their name (Hmong) from this too. It means free or free people. Folktales developed during this period of time.

400 – 900 AD

The Hmong kingdom developed a hereditary monarchy. Only the rulers and the men voted. They followed the Chinese rule until they got defeated by the Dung dynasty, they then went back to the nomadic existence.

900 AD

The Hmong kept struggling for independence in many different locations within china. There were also many years of peace in this time.

1800 AD

The Hmong moved to northern Laos. They got attracted their by rich, fertile land and the promise of freedom. Ten villages where established within only a few years.

1815 AD
They had a good relationship with their neighboring villages.

1893 AD
They followed the French Rule. Many Hmong supported the French rule, many others did not.

1940 AD

French surrendered to the Nazis.

1949 AD

Laos finally received independence.

1950 AD

A famous Hmong military officer (Vang Pao) was told to go spy on the French.

1960 AD

The American CIA wanted Vang Pao’s suppored in their fight against the Vietnamese communists. In return for Hmong assistance they would provide arms, training and food to the Hmong.

1964 AD

Vang Pao was named General in the Royal Lao Army. Ca. 30 thousand Hmong fought against the Vietnamese. They got paid about 10 cent a day and a promise of being taken care of by the US government.

1975 AD

The end of the war. Americans pulled out of Southeast Asia. Results: 17000 Hmong soldiers and 5000 Hmong civilians were killed. Vang Pao was ordered to leave Laos by the CIA. The Pathet Lao began reeducating the Hmong, often in concentration camps. The communist Lao started chemical warfare against the Hmong, in relation for their support of the Americans. Many Hmong fled to Thailand. About 100000 Hmong were killed.

1980 AD

Another 100000 Hmong fled to Thailand. Many stayed in camps for up to 10 years but eventually they for settled in France and the US. When the camps closed in 1995 many returned to Laos. A few thousand Hmong people remain in Thailand.

In the Hmong culture there are a few well-defined levels of leadership reaching form nuclear family up to the sub clan level. At the lower levels there is at least on identifiable leader for each level. If there is a problem or a conflict within a nuclear family, it is best to be resolved within this unit or this family. If this does not work out the next higher level of the hierarchy has/will take over. This process/chain will continue up until the problem or conflict is solved. In the Hmong society the Male is the dominant figure (- at least in most public gathering but this does not automatically mean that the husband is the leader of the house. In many cases, the wife may be the leader). There are at least six leadership levels.
First level: Leadership at the nuclear family level
Second level: the "family" level
Third level: the sub clan level
Fourth level: the clan and inter-sub clan level
Fifth level: the Inter-Clan Leader:
Sixth level: The Hmong nation (ib haiv Hmoob).

The Hmong Economy is based on the intergraded cultivation of dry rice, maize and opium poppy as a cash crop. Rice is the food of most Southeast Asian countries where as maize is used as food for the animals. Maize and poppy are perfect to have together because they can be planted in successively in the same field. Maize is usually planted in the 5th or 5th month of the year after the rice and is harvested in the 8th or 9th month. The poppy is harvested after New Year and the end of the 12th month. Therefore it is easy to plant and harvest both maize and poppy in the same field.

The Hmong is organized in clans. There are about 18 clans (Cha, Cheng, Chue, Fang, Hang, Her, Khang, Kong, Kue, Lee, Lor, Moua, Pha, Thao, Vang, Vue, Xiong and Yang). A clan membership is passed down through generations. All children are part of their fathers clan. Members of the same clan consider each other as kwi tij, which means brothers or siblings. All members of a clan are expected to mutual support each other. The people in charge or conflicts and solutions are the clan leaders. They are expected to take responsibility for conflict negotiation and occasionally the maintenance of religious traditions/rituals.

Beliefs system:
Hmong people do not have one single belief system. In the beginning of 19th century Missionaries from Southeast Asia turned many Hmong people into Christianity. Many Hmong people from both Asia and the West follow traditional spiritual practices including animism and ancestor worship. Individuals perform rituals and supply offering, including food and spirit money to please the spirits and earn their favor. In the Hmong culture each person is told t have several souls (between 3 and 7 depending on traditions). Some of those souls have specific jobs/roles. The main soul of each person is reincarnated after death where as another soul returns to the home of the ancestors. Another one of the several souls says near the grave. There are also souls that may even leave the body this is the soul of living. The loss of a soul or several souls can cause serious illnesses. If a soul is lost it can be called back by the elders by a soul calling ceremony. In the ceremony they offer the soul food on try to chant it back that way.

A Hmong may not marry a member of the same clan. They must find someone from a different clan to marry. However, they are allowed to marry blood relatives , for example the children of a brother and sister can marry because they are in a different clan. If a boy want to marry a women he will traditionally make his intentions clear and snatch her during day or night. This is a symbolic kidnapping; the girl is allowed to refuse to go. The parents will not be told but an envoy form the man’s clan will be sent to inform them about the about location and safety of their daughter. A blessing ritual for the ancestors will be performed to ask them to accept her into the household. After this ritual she will not be allowed to visit anyone for 3 days. After 3 days the first wedding feast will take place. The brides family will organize a second feast at their house were the couple will then get married
When a husband dies, it is his clans responsibility to look after the widow and the children. The widow is allowed to get remarried in which case she would have two choices; she may marry her husband’s younger brothers or younger cousins or she can marry anyone outside her own clan.
Divorce was very rare in traditional Hmong society, although it is getting more popular in the western Hmong communities.

New Year:
The Hmong New Year is a cultural tradition that takes place in a selected area where smaller communities/clans come together. During the festival Hmong dress in traditional cloth and enjoy Hmong food, music, dance, bull fight and also other forms of entertainment. Hmong New Year is very traditionally and can also serve as education for those who have interests in the Hmong traditions. New Year is traditionally celebrated at the end of the harvest season when all the work is done.

Variety of herbs and spices used in cooking such as ; chilies, cilantro, ginger, garlic, green onion, mint, fish sauce, oyster sauce and hoisin. The Hmong were very healthy people as all their three meals consisted of white rice, a few vegetables dishes and a small portion of meat. Most of their food was stir fried, boiled or steamed with either vegetable oil or a little pork fat or cooking.

Art and Architecture:
Hmong needlework involved from both ancient traditions but also more recent adoptions which were made during the time of survival in refugee camps. The needlework helped them to keep their identity and traditions as they had to adapt to different places during war.
Fine needlework has always been a source of great pride to Hmong women. They created traditional clothing for celebrations such as New Year, marriages, births and other important big events. There were different techniques to create theses pieces of clothing such as cross stitch or needle weaving.
In Hmong needlework art lots of symbolism was used. There were different symbols presenting different things. One of the common patterns seen is called “elepahnt’s foot”. This is a symbol of family. The names of the patterns usually are things to do with nature such as; spider web, dragon’s tail, water lily or mountains.
Hmong Houses:
To build the walls and roofs of their houses the Hmong used a special wood, very common in their area, called peumou also called coffin wood. They used this wood because it does not attract insects and it does not go defect when in contact with water. Roofs made out of peumou shingle will last up to 70 years.

Science and Technology:
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