The Hmong People

Like many of the ethnic minorities in South East Asia, the Hmong people originated in China. They also migrated to Northern Vietnam, and later to Laos. The Hmong are classified by the clothing they wear, or to be more specific, by the colors or patterns of their clothing. There are White, Green, and Black Hmong, there are also striped Hmong. There are culturally and linguistically related people groups in China that who do not call themselves Hmong, but are considered by many to be the same people. These people are classified by the Chinese government, (there are at least 9 million of them in China) as belonging to the “Miao” ethnic group, but others do not call them by that name as it is sometimes seen as derogatory.

The Hmong are one of the largest ethnic groups in Laos, second only to the Lao and then followed by the Khmu. Like the other hilltribes, the Hmong put much emphasis on the family.

Both male and female Hmong are known to wear a lot of solid silver jewelry, and the Hmong have long been known for their craftsmanship and traditional handicrafts. They make their own cabinets, back baskets, hoes axes and knives, as well as their own thick silver bracelets and necklaces.

The Hmong women are famous for their intricate embroidery and ornate patterns on their costumes. It is tradition for the Hmong women to weave and make a new set of clothes for every new year festival, which is celebrated according to their own calendar.

Most Hmong villages will be found at the 1,000 to 1,500 meter altitudes, in Central and Northern Laos. Many of these villages can only be reached by foot paths. The Hmong build their houses on the ground, instead of on stilts as many other people groups. Their villages are often made up entirely of one clan, except for those who have been brought in by marriage.

The Hmong are known as industrious farmers, growing virtually everything they need. Their crops include maize to use as animal feed, dry grown rice from slash and burn clearings, beans, taro, eggplant, cucumber, bananas, melons, papayas and others. Their favorite livestock seems to be the small, potbellied pigs that are seen running about in the villages, they also keep chickens and goats. The Hmong at higher elevations will often have small, stocky horses, while those who live at lower elevations may have water buffalo. The Hmong men are adept hunters, often spending weeks at a time in the forests. The women gather roots and herbs from the forests also.

The Hmong girls are commonly married at a young age, many often have three or four children by the age of eighteen. The Hmong boys usually marry around the age of twenty, in the past it has not been uncommon for wealthy Hmong men to have several wives.

The Hmong believe that every person has three souls, one that goes to heaven when a person dies, one that is buried with the person, and one that is reincarnated. They are animists, or spirit worshippers and also believe in many different gods, demons and spirits.

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