The Mien People

The Mien people, also called the Yao, are one of the oldest tribal groups in South East Asia, it is believed that their ancestors originated in China over four thousand years ago. Like many other ethnic minorities that originated in China, their migration was caused by the constant pressures placed on them by the governments of their time, and by the marauding of bandits and warring of Mongol warlords. After the people’s revolution in Laos many Mien fled to Thailand.

While the Mien are not known to produce their own cotton or silk, they are highly skilled at dyeing, embroidering, and sewing. This shows in the distinctive costumes they wear. The men are well known for their skill as silversmiths, they are also excellent blacksmiths, making their own implements for farming.

The Mien are also known for their abilities to grow opium poppies and produce opium, but have been forced out of this particular trade by opium eradication programs, infertile soils and other influences affecting the opium markets.

As with most of the hill tribes, farming and hunting are ways of life for the Mien people. The Mien live in large family groups, with three generations often living under the same roof. Polygamy was widely accepted in the past but is not as common at this time. The Mien women are responsible for the household chores and the men usually have very little responsibility for this type of work, the women are also expected to work alongside the men in the fields, gather firewood and draw water.

The Mien are known as a peace loving, accepting people and have assimilated more easily and quickly into foreign countries and cultures than many of the other hill tribes. The Mien have their own spoken language but use a written script that has similarities to ancient Chinese. They believe in a mixture of Taoism, Animism and ancestor worship. They also have a “spirit money” that they make and use, it is slightly larger than ordinary money and often made of a tattered white material and stamped or decorated with animal pictures. They use this money to pay for dead ancestors to have a good life in the spirit world, they also make large bags of spirit money when someone in the household is ill, to pay for their recovery.

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