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The Hmong People

November 21, 2015


Several weeks ago we were in Jatujak market in Bangkok to purchase products for The Elephant Story. One of our normal stops is N & J Handmade where we buy Hmong cotton elephant objects. It was a bit of a slow morning so the owner Khun Chu, a Hmong lady, and I had a conversation in Thai about the Hmong people. Talking about Hmong people in Thai is not particularly easy though far better than an occasion several years ago when I wandered into a conversation in Thai about econometric models. I was wearing a pair of Elephant Story fisherman pants with embroidered Hmong fabric. She asked about the pants and I told her about my experience with the Hmong people in Laos in the late 1960s.
We talked a lot about her people so I thought it might be an interesting commentary for those of you who may not be familiar with them.
We first commented on the Hmong people in our blog of March 8, 2015 entitled The Hall of Opium in the Golden Triangle and again in the April 1, 2015 entitled Laos Aviation in the Sixties blog, not an April Fools joke, even though it may have appeared to be one. Those blogs covered a bit about the author's experiences including the role of the Hmong people recruited by the CIA's Special Activities Division to form a secret army against the North Vietnamese invaders and the Pathet Lao communists. Although little may be known in today's world of the secret army, maybe less is known of the people and culture in general.
The Hmong are an ethnic group living in the mountainous areas of Southern China, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Approximately, three million live in China, one million in Vietnam and the bulk of the remainder in Laos and Thailand. The Thailand Hmong population expanded greatly following the war in Laos as the refugees moved south. If you saw Clint Eastwood in the movie Gran Torino, you might recall that his neighbors were Hmong refugees who immigrated to Detroit. In fact, we have a very good friend, Myrna Adkins, former head of The Spring Institute who played a major role in the Hmong resettlement program in the United States.
Hmong people are readily recognized by their embroidered clothing. Moreover, the nature of their clothing will distinguish one tribal group of Hmongs from another. The image below was recently taken by a friend of a group of Flower Hmongs in a village north of Chiang Rai.
In Thailand, the Hmong people practice the religion Ua Dab, also known as Hmongism, which subscribes to the belief that natural objects and phenomena contain individual spirits. Each household is believed to have its own spirit, while spirits of nature are found in the wind, mountains, streams and trees.
They pay respect and homage to their living elders, a concept that I find appealing, and to the spirits that influence the fortune of the living. Although many have converted to Buddhism and Christianity, Hmongism is still widely practiced in the community.
Hmong-Mien is the language of the Hmong people that is spoken by some four million people. It has been in existence for two thousand years and has survived without a written script. Most hill tribe languages including that of the Tai people, a hill tribe in southern China, who moved into Thailand a thousand years ago, lacked a written script until an alphabet was created out of Sanskrit symbols.
Although you would be hard pressed to find many Hmong restaurants around the world, their fare is a bit of herb flavored meat and vegetables served with white rice and copious quantities of chilies. In addition, they add a hot sauce (kua txob) for an extra punch. In the old days, the Hmong men would close the evening with an opium pipe before they woke up later to hunt wild game at night.
Visit us at The Elephant Story to see a wide range of Hmong fabrics, clothing and children's toys. If you are in Washington, D.C., go by and see the marker in Arlington National Cemetery honoring the 30,000 Hmong soldiers who perished during the War in Laos.

 

Hmong Jackets
Hmong Bags
Hmong Home Accessories
Tribal Toy