hmong culture

presented by ITVS

presented by NAATA

Hmong Culture

Hmong fringed cloth

Money belt in reverse applique with embroidered detail, fringed with beads, silver Laotian coins, and silver bells. Chua Zoua Vang. Art of the Hmong-Americans, Davis, CA: C.N. Gorman Museum (UC Davis), 1985.

Many Hmong families have enthusiastically continued artistic traditions that have been passed down from generation to generation. Their practice of Hmong folklore, sewing and music continues to thrive in the United States today.

children in traditional Hmong dress
Two of the Thao children in traditional Hmong dress
Until the end of the 19th century the Hmong had no written language. A high value was and still is placed on the oral tradition. Hmong folktales are used not only to instruct and entertain, but to convey the values and beliefs of the community, as well as to explain the world's mysteries, such as "The Origin of the Shaman" and "Why Animals Cannot Talk."

Read a Hmong Folktale

Hmong embroidered cloth
Flower Cloth of the Hmong, Denver, CO: Denver Museum of Natural History, 1985, and Joan Randall, ed.

Hmong also tell stories through story cloths, or Paj ntaub (which means "flower cloth.") Their textiles are intricately sewn designs composed of appliqué, cross-stitches, batik and embroidery. Traditionally, when Hmong families bury their dead, they dress them in hand-sewn clothing. In refugee camps, picture cloths grew out of an effort to teach written language to the Hmong. The women transferred their drawings to cloth. Paj ntaubs were later made as pillow covers or hung on walls as tapestries. Storycloths often incorporate Hmong family history, village life, death, the disturbance of war, emigration and life in a new land. Paj ntaub reflects how the medium of an old tradition continues to be used to tell a modern story of Hmong history and culture.

hmong cloth
Flower Cloth of the Hmong, Denver, CO: Denver Museum of Natural History, 1985, and Joan Randall, ed.

Paja's son playing qeej
Paja's son Birthanie plays qeej

Like many Asian languages, the Hmong language is tonal, which means that a word's meaning depends not only on how it is pronounced but also its pitch and whether the voice rises or falls. The qeej, a musical instrument made from six bamboo pipes attached to a wooden wind chamber, is highly esteemed in Hmong culture. It is said to speak to the audience, as four of its six pipes represent the tones of the Hmong language. Hmong language and music are tightly bound together; their songs actually speak words and all Hmong poetry is sung. Hmong song is an integral part of their culture, used in many important rituals, including those of death and even courtship.

Listen to samples of Hmong music by using RealPlayer.
Download RealPlayer.

Nooj Coob Noog Ncua
A Paaj Tawg Laam Radio recording
vocalist Moob Suav [1]

Paajnruag Suab Moob Njuab
Producer TxoovTuam Zaag [1]

Traditional qeej music [2]

Textile Sources:
UCI Libraries, Irvine California

Music Sources:
[1] TxoovTuam's Music Page
[2] Wisconsin Public Television

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