Hmong history

Friday, November 28, 2008

Who Are The Hmong?

The Hmong, tribal people from highland Laos, are recent immigrants to the United States. The Hmong were largely insulated from the outside world, but during the Vietnam War, between 1954 and 1975, the Hmong were recruited by the United States to fight against the communist forces in Laos.

When the United States forces withdrew from Vietnam and Laos in 1975, the Hmong became the target of violent reprisals from the new government. Hundreds of thousands of Hmong were forced to flee across the Mekong River to seek refugee in Thailand. During the marching to Thailand, tens of thousands were being killed by the Communist Pathet Lao, victims of chemical bio-logical toxins, and died of hunger.

Currently, there are over a hundred thousand Hmong on the hillside inside Laos who are still fighting for freedom and democracy. Approximately 300,000 Hmong are living in the United States and other western countries, 40,000 still remain in the refugee camps and an unstated number are living illegally with relatives in the local Hmong villages in Thailand.

Most of the Hmong who are in Thailand hesitate to seek resettlement in the U.S. and are not yet ready to return to Laos. As Thailand seeks to end its refugee population, we, the United Hmong Foundation, must ensure that no Hmong are returned involuntarily. Despite the continuous flow of the Hmong refugees into the United States, many Americans are still unaware of the sacrifices the Hmong made for supporting American military during the Vietnam War. The Hmong also have good determination to unite by the common experience of rebuilding individual lives and families that were permanently altered by war and resettlement.

By correlation archeological and anthropological evidence, oral tradition, and Chinese imperial records, scholars have traced the Hmong to central Asia, possibly as early as 5000 B.C. Hmong folktales describe a place having six months of light and six of dark, where snow lay on mountains and ice covered lakes. Over many centuries, they migrated eastward descending through northeast Tibet into southern China. There, the Chinese referred to them as Miao(Meo in Southeast Asia), sometimes translated as "barbarians", but actually a variation on the word "man". Their name for themselves Hmong, means "free people"(Credit: Chippewa Valley Museum. Hmong In America/Journey From A Secret War. Copyright: Chippewas Valley Museum Press 1995)

These following are just claims of what might have happened.
(keyword: "might have happened")

Who was first in China, Hmong or Chinese?

The Hmongs are still unclear of their past and lack informational links to find them. History was passed orally from Grandfather to son, father to son, etc. There have been many claims, and stories trying to resolve this matter. In the Hmong folktales which were orally passed down from generation to generation, there were talks of Hmong having their own emperor of China. It was believed that the Hmongs first lived in China before the Chinese. At the time, it was not called China, but was called after the Hmong emperor's name. Then one day, the Chinese started to appear. They traveled to the Hmong kingdom from the direction of the Pacific Ocean. The Chinese migrated in, and started to work in the fields, and intermarried with he Hmongs. When the population of the Chinese surpassed the Hmong, the Chinese began to take over. Centuries of wars between the Hmong and Chinese to take over the kingdom. With no fortune, a Hmong man was bribed to killed the Hmong Emperor, and he was successful at doing so too. Since then, the Hmongs were persecuted, and forced out by the new emperor, a Chinese emperor.

Go to picture of emperor

During this persecution, the Hmongs lost all their written records, and written languages. If was said that the Chinese burned all the records and books. Anyone who had knowledge of writing or reading, was killed. It was believed that the last person to have a record book, swallowed his copy, right before the Imperial Chinese soldier killed him. Hmongs have learned to preserve their writings in the "paj ntaub" or the "Pha Dau". The Pha Dau were symbols and writings which was stitched into embroideries. Today, the Pha Dau's are just a mere design for costumes, and decoration of for the New Year celebrations. The Hmong elders who could actually read the embroideries have all passed away.

Are the Hmongs one of the Lost Tribes of Hebrew?

Many also believe that the Hmong are one of the Lost Hebrew Tribes. To back this up, a folktale talked about a great flood that happened to the Hmong. Also, Linguistics have compared the Hmong written language to those of ancient Hebrew, and found them to be similar. Hebrew and Hmong also share similar animal sacrifices in religious beliefs. Even with the head dress, the Hmong and the Hebrew head dress are similar in a way. Last but no least, there are Hmongs with blond hair, and blue eyes. This comes to the conclusion that somewhere along the way, may the Hmongs intermarried with blond haired blue eyes people, or maybe the Hmong may have migrated to Europe for a while before heading towards China.

Is Mongolia where the Hmongs came from?

It was believed that the Hmongs did settled in Mongolia. Also, the name Mongolia, was named in honor of a Hmong girl named, Mongolia. This idea came from folk tales passed down from grandparents too.

The tale talks about the emperor of Mongolia just recent passing away. One of the rule was that when a parent dies, the son's or the eldest son has to guard and watch over his body. This is to keep him safe for the time being. Every night the eldest son has to watch over his father's body. But, every night a ghostly knight that comes around on a horse kept scaring the son away. The next night, the younger son was told to guard the body. Again that night, he was scared away by the ghostly knight. Talks of this ghostly knight made other members of the family scared, excepted for a young girl. That night, she stayed up and guarded her father. When the ghostly knight came, she didn't run away. The ghostly knight came up to her, and congratulated her on her heroism. He told her that she is the only one that was not afraid of him, therefore, he made her Empress of Mongolia. The name Mongolia, was that young girl's name. Other than that, little backs that idea.

To learn more about the Hmong and their part in the Vietnam War, please visit Lao Veterans of America's web site. You will find many interesting pictures and articles there to inform you more about the Hmong.


Hmong's new lives in Caribbean

Thursday, November 6, 2008

By Bethan Jinkinson

BBC's East Asia Today, in French Guiana
Txong Fong Moua was one of Cacao’s original settlers and a veteran who fought with both the French and the Americans against the Vietnamese.

"This is a picture of me with my gun. That is me, and that is my younger brother… We were very good fighters, and we killed a lot of Vietnamese."

Go to page to see more pictures

Asia's Hmong ethnic minority has been scattered by hardship and warfare for centuries, but one of its most unusual destinations was French Guiana in the Caribbean.

"The Hmong people have never had a country before," says Txong Fong Moua, one of the founding members of the Hmong village of Cacao, inland from the capital Cayenne.

"All we ever needed was a forest, somewhere to produce vegetables. We built everything from scratch, all our houses, our farms, everything, until it became our new home."

The French Guiana link goes back to the 1970s, after Hmong refugees were left behind when their US allies pulled out of South East Asia. Many fled to Thailand, and some were later resettled overseas by France and the US.

The first group of 45 Hmong arrived in Cayenne in 1977. They were transferred to a new plot of land in the Amazonian jungle, which they called Cacao. Since then, nearly 2,000 Hmong have settled in French Guiana.

Txong Fong Moua arrived with 13 members of his family.

Thanks to Hmong traditions of marrying young and having large families, he now has 84 living descendants.

He lives with his wife, his daughter and son-in-law, and their two children, in a traditional Laos-style wooden house.

Like most of Cacao's houses, it is sparsely furnished but also contains many hi-tech gadgets, like satellite dishes and a widescreen television - evidence that the Hmong in French Guiana have done extremely well for themselves.

Although they make up only 1% of the population of, they now control 70% of the country's agriculture.

"Before, in Laos, we grew food only for our own families to eat," said Joseph Toh, one of Txong Fong Moua's son-in-laws.

"But when we came here, we needed money to live, and to make enough to sell. So we moved from simple farming to more advanced farming technology," he said, demonstrating an irrigation system he had set up on his land.

Using these techniques, as well as pesticides and herbicides, the Hmong have managed to carve out pristine farms from the rainforest.


The Hmong sell a wide variety of fruit and vegetables at the weekly produce market in the capital, Cayenne, earning around $500-600 dollars per trip.

Although the fruits of their labour are well received by the local population - their tasty rambutans sell out quickly - people were initially wary of the Hmong.

Demonstrations were organised in the capital Cayenne prior to their arrival, as the locals were worried that the Hmong would steal their jobs.

But perhaps because the Hmong have largely kept themselves to themselves, the locals seem to have accepted their presence in the country.

This self-sufficiency and self-reliance has left them somewhat isolated from the wider community, and this can cause problems.

"Hmong men are very shy," says Vietnamese born Ly Ngoc Lan, who teaches creative arts at Cacao elementary school.

"They rarely marry outside the small community, and as a result many people are marrying people who are basically relatives, cousins or even aunts and uncles," she said.

Another problem that the community has is that the work ethic is so strong, education often takes second place.

"Because the parents work so hard on their farms, they are more focussed on that than their children's education. As a result, not many of them go on to higher education."


Perhaps because many of them had to leave everything behind when they fled Laos after the Americans pulled out of the war, the Hmong are very focussed on earning money.

The Hmong have been running all their lives", says Ly Dao Ly, Cacao's village baker. "Maybe they feel that even though they are citizens here, they might have to run again, and so money is their security."

Madame Ly is a strong believer in keeping Hmong traditions alive in Cacao. In between baking croissants and baguettes for the village, a trade she learnt in France, she teaches traditional Hmong dancing to the children.

"I am worried that if people work too hard, they won't have enough time to teach their children our ancient traditions," she said.

However, some Hmong traditions appear to be alive and well in Cacao.

Animals such as buffaloes are still regularly sacrificed for big celebrations like weddings, where traditional dress is worn by many guests.

Hmong handicrafts and embroidery sell well at the weekly Sunday market which attracts people from around the country.

Embroidered cushion covers depicting the Hmong exodus from Laos across the Mekong river into Thailand provide an example of how the Hmong's recent history is being preserved by the women of Cacao.

Religious beliefs, though, have shifted. Although traditionally animist, Christian missionaries have been active within the Hmong communities in French Guiana for years, and as a result, church attendance is extremely high.

Even the young people of the village attend two or even three times a week.

Although some of the elder people in the village said they would like to go back to Laos to visit, most of the younger generation seem to have less desire to find out where they have come from. They are more interested in travelling to America and France, both of which have sizeable Hmong communities.

"Laos is not stable," said one Hmong farmer in his twenties.

"If you are Hmong there, they can cut your head off. Here we have laws, we have liberty, democracy, we are free."