December 15, 2016
The Hmong New Year Festival – Nor Pae Jow 2017
When: Usually celebrated between December and January
Where: Ban Nong Hoi Yai, in the district of Mae Rim Chiang Mai Province
This annual event is to showcase the Hmong’s New Year and is aimed at promoting tourism and conservation of the unique Hmong culture. It is a time for outsiders to get a glimpse at these ancient peoples way of life all wrapped up in a colourful pageant. (The Hmong New Year is celebrated, all across the world, wherever the Hmong call home)
While the Hmong are widely known in Thailand, as one of the Kingdoms Hill Tribes, they have their own unique, rich and colourful history. Where once they were used as a secret army, they find that they are still fighting today, but in this case, they are in a war to keep their unique customs and culture alive: A Hmong New Year
For more on the Hmong here in Thailand see our post ‘Hill Tribes of Thailand the Hmong’. In this post we look at one aspect of their aims to keep their own unique identity in an ever changing world
The Hmong New Year
Over their long and at times bloody past, the Hmong New Year celebrations have been divided into two distinctive parts; that combined, traditionally take place over 10 days.
During these New Year’s celebration, Hmong will dress in their finest traditional clothing to enjoy and relish their traditional food, dance, music, bull fights, and a host of other forms of entertainment.
The New Year celebrations tell the story of the Hmong ethnic traditions and culture; and would traditionally take place in November and December (at the end of the harvest season); serving also a Thanksgiving holiday for its people.
In-House rituals and the spiritual part of the celebrations
The celebrations are specifically based on both religious and cultural beliefs; these “in-house” rituals take place annually in every Hmong household. The celebration is to acknowledge the completion of the rice-harvesting season thus, the beginning of a New Year.
During this part of the celebrations, every “wandering” soul of every family member is called back to unite with the family, it is also a time for the young to honor the old, in a ritual of asking for blessings from elders of the house, the clan, as well as the in-laws of other clans.
During this period the Hmong will pay homage to, house spirits as well as the spirit of ‘wealth’ (xwm kab). In addition, if a shaman is in the house, the healing spirits of She-Yee are also honored and released, there to wander the land of the living, (Neeb Foob Yeem). The hope is to give the spirits a well earned vacation, after a long year of looking after the homes and wellbeing of the living, that is until, they are called back right after New Year, to again take up their posts as gaudians.
This part of the Hmong New Year lasts for 3 days, in which time the family members and guests will be served with 10 dishes of food each day, thus the Hmong saying “eat 30.” Listed below are the practices that the Hmong observe during these first 3 days.
- Hu Plig (Soul Calling) – Calling back every soul in the family to unite with the family
- Txi Xwm Kab (Honoring Xwm Kab) – Offerings to the God of Wealth
- Neeb Foob Yeem/Neeb Tso Qhua – Shamanistic Ritual to release the Curing spirits of She-Yee for “vacationing” occurs only if the specific family has a shaman in the house
- Noj peb caug (Eat 30) – The main meal of New year
- Pe Tsiab (Asking for Blessings from Elders) – Occurred early morning during New Year’s day, including parents, uncles, father/moth-in-law, and dead ancestors
- Ntxuav Kauv Laug (Cleaning the Body) – To cleanse the body
- Ntuag Qhauv – A ritual to get rid of problems, issues, temper, loneliness, and all the bad things which have occurred in the household
- Lwm Qaib/Sub – Sacrificing a chicken
- Tog Neej Tsa Tuaj Noj Tsiab – Request special guests (such as father in law, son in law etc.) to come “eat Tsiab,” a very big “eat 30”.
- Xa Noob Ncoos/Tsoog Laug – A very special “thanksgiving” event where parents and in-laws are honored
- Tam Noob Ncoos – A thank you feast from parents and in-laws
- Tso Plig – To release the souls of all dead ones
- Noj Tsiab (eat tsiab) – a very big “eat 30,” involving pigs, cows, and buffalo.
Out-side Celebrations and the fun starts
Once the above list is completed, normally in full and within the first 3 days, the “Outside” fun can start, this period is called “Tsa Hauv Toj”- meaning “raising the mountain.” It is now when the Hmong will let down their hair and party. This can include ‘Bull Fighting’, other rural games, singing and dancing. For the younger unmarried people, it is the time when the eagerly awaited and traditional dating game of ‘pov pob’ is played
Adolescent boys and girls form two separate lines, directly facing one another. A cloth ball is then thrown back and forth, until someone drops it. Girls can ball toss with other girls or boys, but boys cannot ball toss with other boys. It is also taboo to toss the ball to someone of the same clan. Once the ball is dropped (sometimes on purpose), a gift is given to the thrower. These gifts are recovered by singing love songs (hais kwv txhiaj) to their fancied opposite player.
If you want to immerse yourself in a Hmong New Year Festival, then why not visit Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand in late December – early January, when you may be lucky and see first-hand the, beauty, deep spiritual faith and the good nature of these ancient people.
For more on the Hmong see our post ‘Hill Tribes of Thailand the Hmong’
For more on our posts regarding other ethnic people of Thailand
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