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The Hmong . A Case Study in Cultural Resiliency . Tonight!. Where are the Hmong? What’s their background? What is their subsistence strategy? How do they organize their society? What kind of religious beliefs do they have? The impact that warfare and migration have had on Hmong culture.

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The Hmong

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the hmong

The Hmong

A Case Study in Cultural Resiliency

  • Where are the Hmong?
  • What’s their background?
  • What is their subsistence strategy?
  • How do they organize their society?
  • What kind of religious beliefs do they have?
  • The impact that warfare and migration have had on Hmong culture.
  • Southeast Asia
    • Southern China, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam
  • When we talk about Southeast Asia we’re talking about two separate areas that are divided geographically
    • Mainland Southeast Asia
      • Also called Indochina
    • Maritime Southeast Asia
      • Refers to the island chains that extend to the south and east
  • We are only dealing with the Mainland
  • Many different ideas about possible regions of origin:
    • Most likely: Siberia
    • Mesopotamia
    • Mongolia
  • Might hear the term Miao used to refer to the Hmong
    • This is just an inaccurate blanket term referring to many different cultural groups in Southeast Asia.
  • Might hear the term Miao used to refer to the Hmong
    • This is just an inaccurate blanket term referring to many different cultural groups in Southeast Asia
    • Used by the Chinese government
    • Not considered offensive in China but the Hmong do not use the term
  • Disagreements and warfare with the Chinese Government
    • Being so close to (and within) the sphere of influence of such a powerful state makes retaining traditional ways of life difficult.
    • Long history of a desire for cultural independence
    • However, the Hmong put up a fight and as a result much of their more modern history has witnessed a series of conflicts
    • These conflicts were often followed by massive movements of the Hmong from one area into another in search of safe haven
  • These types of conflicts continued when colonial powers began to move into the area (Indochina)
    • French in the 1890s
      • Refusal to pay taxes led to uprising
      • Followed by the “Madman’s War” in the early 1900s
    • Japan during World War II
    • United States during the Vietnam War
  • Slash and Burn agriculture is practiced
    • Also known as Swidden agriculture
    • Large tracts of trees and vegetation are chopped down and then burned in place
    • Not everything will be chopped down however
      • If there is an important food or resource producing tree then that will be allowed to remain
    • The burning of vegetation releases a large amount of nutrients into the soil very suddenly
  • Fields typically have to lie fallow for long periods of time to regain their nutrients after a crop has been harvested.
  • Not good for the environment
  • Can only support so many people and must have sufficient land to continue burning and planting in different areas.
  • Rice and Corn are the staple crops of the Hmong
    • However, many other vegetables will also be produced
      • Cabbage, Squash, Soybeans, Cucumbers among others
domesticated animals
Domesticated Animals
  • Important for the Hmong subsistence strategy, but also not very complex
  • Horses used as beasts of burden in the fields
  • Chickens are typically kept by individual households
  • Pigs are also kept by almost every family and have a wide range of uses
  • Cattle are also domesticated, but not on a large scale and not for consumption
  • Extremely important
  • Provides a huge amount of income for Hmong farmers and villages, much more so than any other crop they produce
    • This is due to western colonial demand for the product
  • Have adapted the crop to whatever environment they have migrated into
  • Also used among the Hmong as well to some degree
    • Treats pain and also used for recreation!
  • Traditional Hmong houses are also called Tsevs
    • Built on stilts to keep the interior cooler
    • Also use the space beneath the house to keep the families domestic animals
  • There is variation however
    • With such an emphasis on migration many Hmong domiciles vary greatly
    • No time to actually construct a dwelling
  • As with other cultures we’ve looked at, there is a great deal of importance placed on the specific arrangement and placement of a new house
    • Have to take into consideration the proximity to family and resources such as water
  • The whole community helps in construction
  • Different types of oracles are also used in order to determine the best placement
    • Leaving rice on a pillar
    • Growth of a cut piece of wood at the proposed center point of the new house
  • The Hmong are organized using a Patrilineal Clan system
    • Children (both male and female) only belong to their fathers lineage
    • All of the property and family history is inherited down through male members of the lineage
    • Although the Hmong do not practice it, in certain cultures a matrilineal descent system is used
      • Basically the opposite
      • Descent and inheritance are all reckoned through the mothers family lineage
      • Much less common in general
  • 12-19 separate clans
  • Further divided into Lineages
    • More practical, closer, and relied upon for every day assistance and support
    • Very important because supernatural forces preclude people from different clans to live, or even socialize in some cases, together.
    • Everything about the Hmong’s identity revolves around these clans and lineages
  • The oldest married male owns absolutely everything associated with the family
    • Organizer and leader of the family unit
  • However, there is a great deal of reliance upon older generations for advice and wisdom
    • This is one of the important issues facing the Hmong as they migrate into Western countries
gettin hitched
Gettin’ Hitched!
  • Arranged marriages by the respective fathers of each family
  • Girls = 13-17
  • Men = 18-20
  • Interestingly, sex before the actual marriage ceremony is not a taboo
  • Short negotiations between the potential groom and the potential brides families
    • Groom sends a messenger to initiate
    • Then a short trial period at the grooms house
    • Several important rituals are performed in order to make sure the marriage is approved by the spirits.
  • A bride-price will also be negotiated
    • But this is also dependent upon the reproductive and marital history of the potential bride
religious beliefs
Religious Beliefs
  • Most believe in animism
    • Spirits (dabs) inhabit almost every part of the natural world
    • Some of the most important spirits are associated with:
      • The Home
        • Consulted during the initial construction phase
      • Health and Medicine
      • Spirits within important natural objects or features
      • Spirits that interact with Shamans
  • Shaman’s act as the link between the everyday world and the supernatural world
  • Animism helps to explain why things happen and shaman’s interpret these signs and indicators
  • Randomly selected:
    • Usually an individual who has become sick will be given the title shaman
      • Other shamans will determine if the person is just sick or if it is an actual ancestral spirit inhabiting the individual
      • Of course, there is a great deal of additional study that takes place after recovery
  • Conduct religious ceremonies:
    • Some involve animal sacrifice
    • Others just the proper placement of herbs on an alter
  • Will communicate with spirits through a trance-like state
  • Physically exhausting
    • Shaking their whole body for hours on end
  • Also use cymbals and rattles to call the attention of the spirits
  • Extremely elaborate iconography imbedded in the fabric
  • Not just for dress and clothing
  • Tells the story of the Hmong’s history
  • Women do all the weaving
    • Typically use hemp string and fabric, along with a variety of other plant material
    • Dyed and then spun
  • Many ritual occasions have very elaborate and specific types of clothing that must be worn
  • Jewelry of all different types is also used in conjunction with the stunning fabric
  • This art form has persisted despite the massive migrations and cultural displacements the Hmong have faced
vietnam and us involvement with the hmong
Vietnam and US Involvement with the Hmong
  • Early representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency began working with the Hmong people in Laos during the late 1950’s
  • In 1961, a special forces military consultant (working for the CIA) met with General Vang Pao.
    • Combat veteran and respected military leader among the Hmong
    • Support was promised either in victory or defeat
  • CIA coordinated the effort against the Communists in Laos in partnership with General Vang Pao and the Lao Government
hmong and the vietnam war
Hmong and the Vietnam War
  • The construction of airbases in Laos was the focal point of the US sponsored Hmong efforts to defeat the North Vietnamese in Laos
  • Many former officials (including the former Director of the CIA) credit the Hmong with saving the lives of many thousands of US soldiers by preventing the North Vietnamese (for a time) from extending the Ho Chi Minh Trail into Laos
  • The full extent of the Hmong role assisting the US in the Vietnam War was not officially acknowledged by the US Government until the 1980s
end of us military involvement
End of US Military Involvement
  • In 1974, the last Air America (CIA) plane and last military personnel left Laos.
  • Over 40,000 North Vietnamese troops remained in Laos at this time to assist the Communist Pathet Lao
  • Estimates are that 30,000-40,000 Hmong died during the duration of the Vietnam War in Laos
  • In 1975 General Vang Pao was evacuated by air to Thailand and thousands of Hmong soldiers and civilians were left behind.
the hmong as refugees
The Hmong as Refugees
  • During 1975 the Hmong began to escape Laos by crossing the Mekong River into Thailand, resulting in many fatalities, including many women and children, as well as elderly individuals who could not keep up with the fast pace.
  • Hmong refugee camps were established in Thailand during the late 1970s.
    • Most well known refugee camp was Ban Vinai
  • Hmong refugees began arriving in the United States from Thailand in late 1975 and early 1976
into the u s
Into the U.S.
  • The number of Hmong refugees admitted into U.S. from the Thailand refugee camps:
    • 1979: ~10,000
    • 1980: Peak of about 27,000
    • Early 1980s: Decrease to less than 5,000
  • 1987: Numbers began to increase again
  • 1988: More than 10,000
  • 1989-1994: More than 5,000 each year
  • 2000: US census recorded about 186,000 Hmong living in the U.S.
modern problems
Modern Problems
  • Many fear the loss of their traditional way of life
    • Particularly the elderly for whom death and a proper ritual burial is a primary concern
  • Problems learning English because of great linguistic differences
    • Some words just don’t exist and have to be created in order to adapt to a new way of communicating
  • Ever present use of technology creates problems as well
    • Particularly so for older generations who may not be able to pick up new skills as easily as younger Hmong
  • However, there are many organizations dedicated to preserving the Hmong way of life and in many communities across the US many, if not all, aspects of the Hmong culture are still intact in some form.