Traditional skills, games major part of Hmong weekend festivities

Monday, August 24, 2009

By Joe Knight
Leader-Telegram staff
CHIPPEWA FALLS - Bee Herr, 52, gave instructions in English and Hmong and gestured with a machete as younger Hmong lashed a house frame together with twine.

One of the workers soon borrowed the machete to carve off a piece of poplar being used in the frame.

Herr said he participated in building numerous houses when he lived in Thailand. But the new generation, born in the U.S., were clueless but enthusiastic.

"The kids don't know how to do it, but they are learning," he said.

Building a traditional bamboo house, playing traditional games and eating traditional food were among the activities featured at the first Hmoobfest at Chippewa Falls.

Organizers hoped non-Hmong attending would absorb some Hmong culture, but it was also a learning experience for the younger Hmong, who knew soccer and basketball but had never learned the finer points of Tuj Lib, or "top spin," a game that combined elements of spinning a top, bowling and curling.

And the new generation hasn't had much experience building bamboo houses.

In the old country, a house would last about five years, Herr said. The wood wasn't varnished and would start to rot after a few years of rain and sun.

The family who needed a home would be responsible for gathering grass for the roof, bamboo for the walls and wood for the frame. When they were ready, the whole village would show up and help them put it up. No nails were used, Herr said. The beams were notched and lashed together.

They were one-story homes. "You would call it a ranch style," he said.

The house at the fairground would take two days to build, with inexperienced labor and some unfamiliar materials, but in Laos or Thailand a house with several rooms would go up in one day.

"The family would sleep in it that night," Herr said.

Also in Laos or Thailand, the construction workers would not have had friends tossing water balloons at them, as was happening Saturday afternoon in Chippewa Falls.

Paw Moua, 31, of Eau Claire was coaching novices in "top spin," where contestants, usually in teams of six, toss 1-pound fiberglass tops using a stick with a string that wraps around the top. It requires tossing the top in one direction while pulling back with the stick to impart the right spin. Points are scored based on the duration of spin and knocking over other tops.

Coming close doesn't count, Moua explained, after he narrowly missed knocking over two tops set 25 feet away.

"If you don't get it, you don't get it," he said.

The rules vary slightly among states, Moua said.

In Laos they played for fun at major festivals. In the U.S. they now have tournaments with cash prizes, he said.

Xoua Yang of Elk Mound, chairman of Hmoobfest, said the idea of the festival was to have Americans experience a little Hmong culture.

"So they know who we are, and so we get to know each other and learn about each other's cultures," he said.

They are thinking of making it an annual event, he said.

"After this, we'll talk and see what we're going to do. Hopefully, we want to keep this going every year," Yang said.

Knight can be reached at 830-5835 or


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