December 28, 2015
The Hmong An ancient people who have been used in secret wars and who recognize each other by the colour of their clothes
Since the late 18th century the Hmong alone among the Miao groups, have slowly migrated to Thailand from the mountainous regions of southwest China, where it is believed 2.7 million still remain. Miao is the official Chinese term for four distinct groups of fifty-five official minority groups who are only distantly related through language or culture – some of the Hmong believe the term to be derogatory as it implies barbarism. Many Thai and Lao people refer to the Hmong as Meo (a corruption of Miao) not knowing that this word is also offensive to the Hmong people
The true history of the Hmong people is difficult to trace; they have an oral tradition, but there are no written records. (Excluding the Romanized Popular Alphabet, developed in the 1950s) Hmong history has been passed down through legends and ritual ceremonies from one generation to another as well as through Hmong textile art or story cloths sewn by the women.
The Miao/Hmong were first recorded in Chinese annals as a rebellious people banished from the central plains around 2500 B.C. by the legendary Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) of China while their own legends have lead many to believe they may have originated from Mesopotamia, Siberia, or Mongolia, recent studies of both their linguistics and DNA has suggested that they have occupied the same areas of southern China for over 2,000 years
Their numbers and location
Hmong people in Thailand are estimated at 150,000 and in the main live in villages in the provinces of Chiang Rai, Phayao, Chiang Mai, Prae, Lampang, Khampang Phet, Loei, Phisanulok, Phetchabun, Tak and Mae Hong Son.
The majority of these people fled Laos in the mid 1970’s after the Vietnam war and when Laos was taken over by a communist regime, who then proceeded to persecute them for helping the Americans in their ‘Secret War’ against the Viet Cong.
Hmong people have their own term for the sub cultural divisions among themselves; two of the largest are White Hmong (Hmong Der) and Green or Blue Mong (Mong Leng). In the Romanized Popular Alphabet, developed in the 1950s. Other groups of Hmong/Mong people include the Black Hmong (Hmoob Dub), Striped Hmong (Hmoob Txaij/Hmoob Quas Npab), Hmong Shi, Hmong Pe, Hmong Pua, and Hmong Xau
There are three main cultural divisions of the Hmong in Thailand, marked by differences of dialect and custom, they are the White Hmong (Dao/Daew/Daw Hmong), Blue Hmong (Njua) and the Black Hmong (Gua Maba). Their names are in part a reflection of the colour of women’s clothing, the use of colour in women’s clothing to recognize a separate clan/tribe is also found within the Lisu and Lahu hill tribes.
Hmong religion is based on domestic ancestral worship and shamanism.
The Hmong language is far from standardized and includes a mixture of various dialects. Most Hmong today are likely to speak to each other in the languages from their chosen country, such as Dananshan (Chinese), Laos, or Thai, but will still preserve their own language. All the Hmong share the same set of root words and grammar structure, but the dialect of the three (Thai) Hmong varies, which is not to say they cannot communicate with each other.
While there is an old tale of how the Hmong once had their own written language there is no recorded evidence to prove it. As with most of the Hill Tribes of Thailand, memory and recitation have been the sole form for preserving and passing on Hmong stories of their history and culture.
Hmong people cannot be characterized as subscribing to a single belief system as they believe strongly that their physical well-being cannot be separated from their spiritual health and that the spiritual realm is highly influential and dictates what happens in the physical world. According to these beliefs, everything possesses a spirit, both animate and inanimate objects.
Legend tells the tale of a former time, when humans and spirits could meet and talk with one another. But over time the world of man and light and the spiritual world of darkness become separated and so for the Hmong to communicate with the otherworld they had to learn new ways. These techniques form the basis of Hmong religion, and are divided into domestic worship and shamanism; it is the later Sharman that are able to communicate directly with the spirits
Supernaturals: Other Hmong legends tell of two malevolent Lords of the otherworld Ntxwj Nyug and Nyuj Vaj Tuam Teem. Other spirits include Saub who is a kindly deity who periodically comes to the rescue of humanity, and Siv Yis who was the first shaman, to whom Saub entrusted some of his healing powers to protect humankind from the diseases with which Ntxwj Nyug afflicted them.
Household and ancestral spirits (dab) are different to the spirits of the shaman (neeb). Within the household there are special altars to the spirits of wealth and sickness, of the bedroom, the front door, the loft, the house post, and the two hearths.
Over the proceeding 40 years or so more Hmong have become Christian but they still only make up a small percentage of the total population.
Birth, Health & Death
Birth: Hmong women will normally work up until the day of delivery and will traditionally deliver their babies while standing in a squatting position. The newborn’s placenta or “black jacket” is by custom, buried in a very specific location within the home; the male’s placenta is buried under the center-post of the household while the female’s placenta is buried under the bed.
Health: Each person is thought to have several souls; these souls must remain in harmony for the person to remain healthy. The souls of the living can fall into disharmony and may even leave the body. The loss of a soul or souls (poob plig) can cause serious illness. The number of souls lost determines the severity of the illness. Should a soul be frightened away then the Sharman will conduct a A soul calling ceremony (hu plig), to entice the soul home with chanting and offerings of food.
Death: The main soul is reincarnated after death while another soul returns to the home of the ancestors. A third soul stays near the grave of the deceased. The funeral service is spread over a minimum of 3 days, on the third day after burial the grave is renovated, thirteen days after death a special ritual is performed for the ancestral soul, which will hopefully protect the household. A final memorial service to release the reincarnating soul is held a year after death. On the way back to the village of its ancestors, the reincarnating soul must collect its “Black Jacket,” or placenta, buried beneath the floor of their former house.
Organization: Village life is based on the clanship system; there are approx. eighteen Hmong clans in Laos and Thailand. An assembly of male lineage elders makes local decisions and discusses problems or arbitrates disputes, which can include occasionally accusations of witchcraft. Women can take informal part in an assembly. These elders and the shamans enjoy the most prestige and authority in decision-making activities
Subsistence: As with all the hill tribes of Thailand the Hmong were once predominantly a semi-nomadic people using swidden (slash and burn) farming methods to produce dry rice, maize (normally used to feed domesticated animals), harvesting of timber and raising live stock. Again as with almost all the Hill tribes their main cash crop was once ‘Opium’
In certain areas the Hmong have surrendered the shifting cultivation of dry rice in favor of intensive irrigated rice cultivation on permanent terraced fields laboriously constructed on the flanks of mountains.
Headmen: Every male head of a household practices the domestic worship of ancestral spirits and household gods. Particular rituals must be performed by him in honor of these spirits, at specific alters within the home, most being conducted during the New Year celebrations. (Held at the end of the harvest).
Shaman: Their primary role is to cure illness, which is often diagnosed by the shaman as the result of a person’s sole wandering off, his task is to recall the wayward soul and so restore health, and his secondary role is to prevent misfortune from happening.
Rituals which serve as a treatment might include herbal remedies or offerings of joss paper money or livestock. In cases of serious illness, the shaman enters a trance and travels through the spirit world to discern the cause and remedy of the problem. In Hmong shamanism, a shaman can be a man or a woman but is always chosen by the spirits.
For more on the Hmong and their unique New Year Celebrations click Here
For more on our posts regarding other ethnic people of Thailand click any of the following:
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Research taken from the following: