Friday, January 11, 2008

Hilltribes - Hmong

Hilltribes - Hmong


The Hmong, known in Thailand as Meo [Which is not a nice word], are found in many countries in Sout-East Asia such as Laos, Yunnan and Viet-Nam. The Hmong belongs to the Meo - Yao branch of the Austro - Thai linguistic family. There are about 130,000 [including 60000 refugees from Laos living in camps located near the northeastern border of the country]. The Hmong in Thailand are scattered throughout all of north Thailand.

The Meo peoples are known as the Miao in China, where they number about 5 million. Meo migrated from China into upland Southeast Asia in the 19th century, particularly into Laos, where they numbered less than 200,000 in the early 1990s. The Laotian Meo supported the United States during the Vietnam War. Subsequently, many Hmong were killed by the Vietnamese army, fled to Thailand, or were resettled in the United States. Hmong refugees fled to camps to Thailand when their country came under communist control in 1975.

The Hmong are one of the most spread out minority groups. They are scattered throughout South China in Kweichow, Hunan, Szechwan, Kwangxi, and Yunnan provinces. There are also Hmong communities in North Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and even a few in Burma and in USA and Europe. The Hmong are the second largest group In Thailand after the Karen. and made about 20% of all hilltribes people in the country. The Hmong settlement is concentrated in thirteen provinces : Chiang Mal, Chiang Rai, Nan, Phrae, Tak, Lampang, Phayao. Phetchabun, Kamphaeng Phet, Mae Hong Son, Sukhothai, Pitsanulok and Loei.

The Hmong in Thailand are divided to Three subgroups:

The Blue Hmong (Mong Njua), who are also known as the black Meo, Flowery Meo or Striped Meo in Thai. Women in the subgroup wear the distinctive indigo dyed pleated skirt or kilt with a batik design.
The White Hmong (Hmong Daw). White Hmong women wear a white pleated skirt only on ceremonial occasions, but when engaged in everyday work, they put on indigo-dyed trousers.
The last subgroup is known as the Gua M'ba Meo (Hmong Gua M'ba) which literary means Armband Hmong and only recently entered Thailand from Laos. They are actually a subgroup of the White Hmong. Most are confined to refugee camps.

Around and to the west of Chiang Mai, most of the villages are Blue Hmong, whereas in the east only White Hmong villages can be found.

The Hmong are animists and ancestors worshippers they have a shaman and worship nature spirits. The Chinese influence is obvious in their beliefs and practices. The available information indicates that there are eleven clans in Thailand. The names and origins of these clans are recited in Hmong legends.

The Hmong Specialized as poppy growers and you can see beautiful blossom in some villages [Try Doi Pui village near Doi Sutep in Chiang Mai].

The Hmong prefer to locate their villages at high altitudes of 1,000 -1,200 m. Rice and corn are the main subsistence crops, and opium is the principal cash crop. The Hmong are more heavily engaged in opium production than any other highlanders in Thailand.

The Hmong migrated to Nan Province more then 100 years ago from Laos, but they originated in western China, possibly Mongolia.

Blue Hmong women wear beautiful pleated skirts with parallel horizontal bands of red, blue and white, intricately embroidered. Jackets are of black satin, with wide orange and yellow embroidered cuffs and lapels. The hair is tied in a large bun. Men wear baggy black pants and jackets embroidered in a similar way to the women's, closing over the chest with a button at the left shoulder.

White Hmong women wear black baggy trousers with a long wide blue cummerbund with a central pink area which hangs almost to the ground. Their jackets are simple, with blue cuffs. A brimless blue cap is worn by some groups.

Hmong clothing is much in demand in Thailand, and the Hmong have proved in the last few years to be good business people. Hmong women will be seen at markets throughout Thailand selling their handicrafts. Although like the other tribes generally poor, some families have become quite wealthy.

Hmong villages are usually at high altitudes, below the crest of a protecting hill. The Hmong live in houses that sit right on the ground, not on stilts as do some other hilltribes. However, the main floor of their houses is not at ground level, but rests upon a kind of above-ground basement or root cellar that they use for food storage. Moreover, their house-fronts slope outward and downward, an architectural feature that is the trademark of their villages. Some build the more expensive and comfortable Thai style houses, but in general the Hmong have retained their traditional way of life.

Houses have a dirt floor and a roof which extends almost to the ground. They live in extended families, with two or more bedrooms. There is a large guest platform. The headman has little power, since the Hmong are fiercely independent people who take orders from no one. Before marriage, promiscuity amongst the young is normal. Marriage is followed by a trial period before the bride price is paid. The family is the most important basic unit of social organization and polygon is allowed. Hmong men are expected to do most of the work within the family. Men do the heaviest work, but in practice this means they do little, and expect to be supported by their wives. The Hmong historically grew much opium, and addiction rates in some villages are high, mainly among older males.

The Hmong are strict animists, whose shamans use dramatic methods to contact the spirits. Every house has an altar with a piece of paper covered in cock's feathers affixed with chicken blood. So far there have been few converts to Christianity or Buddhism.

For a long time the Hmong have supported themselves by the cultivation of opium poppy. Most of the Hmong people are turning from opium growing, and are now seeking to market their exquisite needlework in order to supplement their income.

The Hmong , even more than the other tribes, practice a strict male-female division of labor. One custom that especially illustrates this is that of giving a newborn boy a gift of metal from which he will one they forge a weapon, whereas newborn girls receive no special gift.

Hmong women traditionally make clothing for their families from cotton or hemp. Their clothing is richly decorated with magnificent embroidery and silver jewelry.
Blue Hmong women wear beautiful pleated skirts with bands of red, blue and white intricately embroidered. Jackets are of black satin, with wide orange and yellow embroidered cuffs and lapels.
White Hmong women wear black baggy trousers with a long wide blue cummerbund. Their jackets are simple, with blue cuffs.
Hmong men make crossbows, musical instruments, and other items of wood, bamboo and rattan. Many of the men are also skilled in blacksmithing and gunsmith.

The Hmong are diligent and independent people, fond of wearing their silver ornaments during ceremonies and much devoted to the sky spirit they believe has created their own ancient way of life.

The New Year celebration which normally takes place in December is the most important festivity.
copy from

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