One of the most controversial and numerous ethnic groups in South-East Asia is represented by the Hmong people. Hmong tribe’s origin is in China, nowadays being the most widespread minority group in south China. Beijing Statistical Organization has estimated the number of Hmong people living in China, in 2497 BE, at 2.511.386 million. Later the southward expansion of the Han Chinese, caused the Hmong tribe to move down to live uphill on the northern parts of Myanmar (~11.000), Laos (595.028 – 2015), Vietnam (1.393.547 – 2019), and eventually, they moved to Thailand (250.070 – 2015).
Hmong’ Traditions and Lifestyle
The Hmong family is extended and patrilinear. This has resulted from the Hmong’s practices of polygamy marriages. In the social organization, the family stands as the most important unit of all affairs. Beyond the family level, a clan serves as the center for all activities, that mark their uniqueness and cooperation.
Hmongs prefer to live at very high altitudes. They are primary shifting cultivators, growing rice and corn as principal crops for food supplies, and they grow opium as a cash crop.
Contemporary Hmong people cannot be characterized as subscribing to a single belief system. However, their ancient religion is a combination of animism and shamanism with an emphasis on ancestor worship. The shaman has a lot of influence on the villagers, he is their chief hope in crises, their doctor, and the guide in many actions where is danger or doubt.
Tribal Museum -Chiang Mai
Hmong People and the Secret War in Laos
During my travel in Laos, I’ve met and talked with Hmong people which were proud of their origin and their culture. On the other hand, they were saying it’s harder for them to find a job in Laos considering the relations with the Lao government. I didn’t understand exactly what is the history between Hmong people and Laotian authorities so I made some research in this direction.
It seems that in the early ’60s, as a result of the North Vietnamese invasion in Laos, the U.S. CIA began to recruit the Hmong people in Laos to fight against North Vietnamese Army invading Laos during the Vietnam War. It is considered that sixty-percent (60%) of Hmong men in Laos joined up to this “Secret Army”. Hmong soldiers had also an important role in combat against the Laotian government, helping to block Hanoi’s Ho Chi Minh’s trail inside Laos and rescuing downed American pilots.
Even if thousands of Hmongs became political refugees in the USA and other western countries, there is still a considerable number of Hmong people in Laos which is facing discrimination and doubt from the government side.
However, there are young people from Hmong communities hoping for a better life given by their studies. I had the opportunity to meet some English College students in Luang Prabang that are studying to become English Teachers. Even if the distribution of teaching positions is questionable in Laos, I wish them to fulfill their dreams and to change something about the Hmong situation in this country.