Proper name: Hmong, Na Mieo
Other names: Meo, Mieu Ha, Man Trang
Local groups: White Hmong, Chinese Hmong, Red Hmong, Black Hmong, Green Hmong, Na Mieo.
Population: 558,053 people
The Hmong speak a language that belongs to the Hmong – Dao language family.
Farming is done on terraced or widens fields where corns, rice, and wheat are planted. The farmers inter-plant other crops together with the main product, including such crops as lotus, potato, vegetable, peanut, sesame, beans, etc. The plough of the Hmong is famous for its good quality as well as its efficiency. Growing flax, poppy (in the past), and fruit trees such as apple, pear, peach, plum, together with weaving flax are distinctive activities of the Hmong.
The Hmong raise water buffaloes, cows, pigs, chickens, and horses. The horse is the most effective source of transportation in these mountainous areas, and they are beloved animals of each Hmong family. The Hmong handicraft industry is well-developed with works like embroidery blacksmithing, and the making of horse saddles, wooden furniture, rice paper and silver jewelry. All of the above items are produced according to need. Though the Hmong practice their crafts part-time, their products, such as ploughs, barrels, and wooden furniture are quite famous and well known. Markets of the Hmong satisfy not only the trading need but also fulfill their other social pursuits as well.
The Hmong usually eat 2 meals per day, but during harvesting time, they increase to 3 meals per day. There are traditional dishes in a daily meal, like steam corn flour or rice, fried vegetables and soups. The Hmong use wooden spoons to eat the corn flour, and rice on holidays and festivals. The Hmong like to drink wine made from corn and wine. They smoke tobacco in long pipes. Offering guests pipe which the tobacco is stuffed by the host is an affectionate gesture of hospitality. In the past, smoking opium was fairly popular.
Hmong clothing is rich in color and types. White Hmong women grow flax, and weave it into textiles. They dress in white skirts, and buttoned shirts ornamented with embroidery patterns on the sleeves and back. They shave some of their hair, and wrap a long scarf around their head. Chinese Hmong women wear indigo skirts with a flower patterns embroidery design. They wear quilted tops which split above the under arm. Hmong women wear their hair long, and wrapped in a bunch affixed with a twig. Black Hmong wear skirts made from indigo, ornamented with batik flower-patterns, and buttoned shirts. Green Hmong women wear long wrapped skirts. Those who are married arrange their hair in a chignon or bun on the top of their head, and fastened with a little bone or animal hoof comb. On top of that, they wear a scarf that is tied in the shape of two horns. The main decorations on their dresses are made by quilting and embroidery.
The Hmong live gathered in villages, each one composed of several dozen households. Their houses are one story, with 3 rooms, 2 wings, and 2 or 3 doors. The family altar is located in the middle room. The houses of well-to-do families may be decorated with wallpaper, have wooden columns placed on pumpkin-shaped stone, tiled roof, and wooden floors. The altar is placed in the middle room. More typical, though, are houses made with bamboo walls and straw roofs. Food-staffs are stored on high shelves. In some places, there are food storage areas right next to residential houses. Cattle barns are paved with planks, and are high and clean. In high mountainous areas, there is often a big space between two houses, and there are 2-meter-tall stone walls to separate them.
The Hmong use horses for transportation. They use carrying baskets that have two handles.
There are many skin lines in a village, and several prominent lines that tend to play a more decisive role in the village’s social structure. The head of the village takes care of all the disputes, either by fine or by social pressure. Inhabitants of each village voluntarily follow its rule in agricultural production, cattle raising, forest protection, and more over in helping each other. The Hmong pay a great deal of attention to family branches which share the same ancestors. Each of these has some special traits, which are evident in rituals to honor the ancestors and the spirits, and include how many incense bowls there are, where they are placed, and how to pray.
There are also differences in the funeral customs of different branches of a family: where the corpse is placed in the house, how to leave the dead outside before burying, where to locate the graves, etc. People in the same kinship line, though do not necessarily always knows each other, and though they belong to different generations, could still recognize each other by these special customs, it’s a taboo for people in the same family line to marry each other, because those kinsmen are very close. The head of a family tree has much authority, is respected and trusted by everyone. The Hmong have small patriarchal families. The bride, once she is introduced in the wedding ritual and walks through her husband’s family’s doorway, is said to completely belong to the husband’s family line. Husbands and wives are very affectionate, and are always side by side; they go to the market, work in the terrace, and visit relatives, etc, together.
There are many sacred places in the house that are reserved specifically for worshiping, such as a place for ancestors, for house spirits, door spirit, and kitchen spirit. Those men who are traditional healers or ritual specialists have altars to worship the founders of their profession, there are many rituals duding which the strangers are forbidden to walk into the Hmong’s houses and villages. After worshiping a spirit to pray for someone, a good-luck charm is worn.
The Hmong writing though edited like the national alphabet since the 60s is no longer widely used today.
While the Vietnamese are busy to finish those last days of the year, the Hmong have already started those first days of the next year. Counting by the Vietnamese Lunar Calendar, the Hmong’s New Year is in December to coincide with their traditional agricultural calendar, and it is about one month earlier than the Vietnamese Tet. During the New Year’s Festival, villages play shuttlecock, swing, flute, and sing and dance at public areas around the villages. The second biggest holiday is the 5th of May (lunar calendar). Outside these two, depending on location, some places celebrate the 3rd of March, 13th of June, or 7th of July holidays (of the lunar calendar)
Young people like to play pan-flutes while dancing. Flutes and drums are also used in funerals, when visiting someone, or during worshipping. Flutes made from leaves and whistles are vehicles for young people to express their feelings.
Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen