The Hmong or Meo has several sub-groups and in total there are around 560,000 belonging to the total group. The group lives in the mountainous regions close to the Chinese and Laos borders and speaks a language within the Dao Hmong family. There are some regional variations with the Hmong though there are several common factors.
The Hmong people are farmers; apart from rice, wheat and other corns are the main crops though there is also a variety of vegetables such as beans and potatoes and different fruits. One of the things local farmers are known for is the quality of their ploughs while where practical horses are used for transport. Other livestock kept by the Hmong include buffaloes, poultry and pigs.
The Hmong is a group with other skills than farming; the group makes saddles, leather saddles. Jewellery among other things and what is not made for personal use is sold at local markets. Those who travel in Vietnam and spend some time in the Northern Highlands during a Vietnam tour package should look at the handicrafts that can make great souvenirs and presents for friends and family.
Most of the year it is two meals a day but come harvest time, it is three. Rice, corn flour, vegetables and soup make up the bulk of diet while the Hmong makes wine, smokes tobacco in long pipes; in olden days smoking opium was a regular pastime.
Locally grown flax is woven into textiles which are dyed to make extremely colourful clothes. Women’s skirts are actually white but shirts are patterned and highly embroidered. A long scarf is wrapped around the head and some of their hair shaved off. Some sub-groups prefer indigo skirts, others quilted tops. A married woman will arrange her hair in a bun using an animal bone to keep it in place.
There are several single storey houses in a village. A central room will have an altar with houses made of bamboo with straw roofs. Wealthy villagers are likely to have stone houses with tiled roofs and wooden floors. The village will have a head who settles disputes which within the village there is co-operation in farming, tending livestock etc. Ancestors and spirits are very important.
A bride will live with her groom’s family and once married the couple work together, shop together, indeed spend all their time together.
The Hmong’s New Year is in December, weeks earlier than the traditional Vietnamese New Year. It is calculated from the agricultural calendar Hmong keeps. There is plenty of singing and dancing with the people enjoying playing flute, made with leaves and drum which are part of every special event, including funerals.
There are other festivals in the year, early March, 5th May mid-June and 7th July so if you are in their area while travelling in Vietnam you will have the chance to see the celebrations and play; shuttlecock is a favourite children’s game.