Hmong Woman

11 Things About Hmong Vietnamese You Did Not Know

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Updated 2:06 am

Different from many other nations, Vietnam has 52 ethnic groups including Kinh, Hmong, Ede, etc. Among these ethnic groups, Hmong is one of the most popular ones because of its history and unique lifestyle. Not only the foreigners but even some Vietnamese people also do not know much about Hmong. 

This post will provide you with better insights into Hmong’s history and culture by 11 facts you may not know about this ethnic group.

#1 How to pronounce the word “Hmong”?

“Hmong” is a difficult word to say that many people speak it wrongly. In fact, “H” is like a voiceless sound in English, when you say “Hmong”, pronounce the quiet soft “hmm” sound at the beginning of the “mong” sound.

#2 Are The Hmong Chinese?

The answer is depending on the national identity, as the Hmong ethnic have lived traditionally in Southern China, Northern Vietnam, Northern Laos, and Myanmar. If you are of Hmong ethnic identity and your national identity is Vietnamese, you could say that you are Vietnamese. 

Many or most of the majority ethnicities in many countries often use the national identity to refer to their ethnic identity. However, the Hmong ethnic is not the majority ethnic in any countries like the Kinh ethnic in Vietnam or the Han ethnic in China. 

So, if you are Hmong ethnic, you will not automatically be of the Chinese national identity or the Vietnamese national identity from the view of outsiders. Where you were born will decide which nationality you are even when you are of Hmong ethnic identity.

#3 Do Hmong People Speak Vietnamese, Chinese, Or Laotian languages?

No, they speak the Hmong-Mien language, a family of languages spoken in southern China, northern Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. 

The Hmong language is a “tonal” language, similar to those of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. This means the definition of a word will change depending on the tone with which it is spoken. In the Hmong language, a word spoken in one tone will have an entirely different meaning from the same word spoken in a different tone. 

There are seven tones in the Hmong language, and some people even say eight, since two of the tones are so similar that people disagree whether they are different or not. Some of these Hmong tones are referred to with such terms as “high tone,” “high falling tone,” “low tone,” “low falling tone,” and even “breathy mid-low tone.” At all events, the final letter of the printed form of a Hmong word will indicate which tone it is when that word is to be spoken. 

Hmong words are usually quite short; most are not more than one syllable. Thus, many words in Hmong sound the same to someone not used to listening for the difference. In the Hmong language, for example, one word such as “cee” can have several meanings depending on whether it is spoken with a high tone, a low tone, or some other tone.

#4 The Hmong Language Was Once Banned

The Qing Dynasty made it unlawful to write the Hmong language in the 1600s. As a result, Hmong has become an oral language. A Christian missionary developed a written Hmong language based on the Romanized Popular Alphabet in the 1950s. In 1959, an uneducated villager named Shong Lue Yang developed a written Hmong language.

#5 Where did the Hmong people originate from?

The Hmong traditions and legends indicate that they originated near the Yellow River region of China. The ancient town of Zhuolu is considered to be the birthplace of the widely proclaimed legendary Hmong king, Chi You. 

The researchers posited a genetic relationship between Hmong-Mien peoples and Mon-Khmer people groups dating to the Last Glacial Maximum approximately 15-18,000 years ago. 

The conflict between the Hmong of southern China and newly arrived Han settlers increased during the 18th century under repressive economic and cultural reforms imposed by the Qing dynasty. This led to armed conflict and large-scale migrations well into the late 19th century, the period during which many Hmong people emigrated to Southeast Asia. 

The migration process had begun as early as the late-17th century, however, before the time of major social unrest, when small groups went in search of better agricultural opportunities.

#6 Hmong Cuisine

The cuisine of the Hmong differs depending on where they live. For example, Hmong cuisine may be heavily influenced by Chinese, Laotian, Vietnamese, or Thai cuisine in Hmong communities in the United States. As many ethnic Hmong people have traveled via Laos and Thailand on their way to their ultimate destinations worldwide, Hmong food has been inspired by Lao cuisine.

The main ingredients of Hmong food are white rice, which they serve with a variety of vegetables, spicy pepper (typically in the form of a Southeast Asian-inspired sauce), and boiled or fried meat if available. At gatherings and other special events, sticky (glutinous) rice—either white or purple—is often offered.

The usage of a wide variety of spices and herbs found in Vietnamese, Thai, and Laotian cuisines, such as hot pepper (typically Thai), lemongrass, cilantro, garlic, green onions, mint, galangal, and ginger, differentiates Hmong cuisine. In addition, fish sauce, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sriracha sauce, and hoisin sauce are frequently used.

#7 Typical Hmong Meals

Hmong people generally eat three meals each day and do not snack in between meals. Each meal consists of white rice, veggies, and a tiny piece of meat. Meat and vegetables are stir-fried, steamed, or boiled in most cases. As in many other Asian cuisines, hot pepper (Kua txob) is typically offered as a side dish with most meals. The types of meals served at different mealtimes do not change significantly; however, breakfast and dinner generally receive more attention.

This was owing to the Hmong’s migratory background when ingredients were in short supply. This is something that the Hmong have accepted and embraced.

Food is put in the center of the table and consumed communally. Men eat first at major cultural events, followed by women and children.

#8 Traditional Hmong Costume

Hmong women’s traditional attire includes a deep V-neck shirt and an overall made-up of two square pieces covering the front and back, a large belt, a headscarf, leggings, and a truncated cone-shaped gather skirt. The White Hmong ladies dress in a white skirt, a deep V-neck blouse with embroidered designs on the sleeve and back, and a wide-brimmed headscarf.

The Flower Hmong ladies wear an indigo skirt with embroidered flowers at the hem and a snail-shaped pattern blouse with color parts connected. They wore a toupee and had their long hair wrapped around their heads. The Black Hmong ethnic women wear the same skirt as the Flower Hmong, except it is shorter. They finish with a sleeve-embroidered shirt with a deep V-chest.

An indigo skirt with embroidered cross-shaped motifs in squares at the hem is worn by the Blue Hmong, as is a one-button-closed left V-chest shirt. After marriage, the Blue Hmong ethnic girls let their hair drop down their shoulders and wrap it around their heads with horseshoe comb and headscarves.

Through time, these costume has been changed to be suitable with today’s life and culture. The White Hmong ethnic women in Son La wear a white blouse inside and a traditional one outside, whereas the Hmong Sapa women wear short and narrow pants and a standing-collar double shirt. Men wear a sleeveless shirt with four pockets and four buttonholes and drain-pipe, lame-style pants.

#9 Hmong’s Family Roles

A husband is an essential pillar in a Hmong ethnic family, and he is responsible for all of the family’s tasks. The Hmong place a higher value on boys than daughters; therefore, families with a large number of males in the community are typically proud of it. A wife’s primary responsibilities include child care, meal preparation, hand-crafting hemp, and indigo-colored clothing and jewelry.

This is usually seen in many Asia countries’ traditions such as China, Vietnam, etc.; women in these countries are not appreciated as much as men.

#10 Special Custom Of Hmong Stealing wife

Stealing wives is one of the Hmong ethnic group’s unique and popular traditions. When a guy meets and loves a lady after a Hmong “love” festival, he will “take” her and put her in the dark for 2 to 3 days without nourishment. If she accepts to marry him, he will pay the dowry and request her parent’s permission to marry.

These traditional customs show that a man can choose his spouse, but the woman may not always have the same choices.

#11 Traditional Hmong Sport

Tuj lub (pronounced to the loo), or “spin-top,” is a Hmong sport that combines elements of baseball, golf, and bocce. Tuj lub is a game played on a field of 70 feet or more, with huge spinning tops ranging in height from 4 to 5.25 inches.

Two six-player teams participate. Players use a length of thread tied to a two-foot stick to spin or hurl their top towards the opposing team’s tops, gaining points for striking the opposing team’s tops. The game is divided into eight levels, with each step requiring players to strike tops from a greater distance.

On the first three days of the Hmong new year, it is customary to play tuj lub. In Saint Paul, Minnesota, where the city constructed a tuj lub court in 2016, an annual tuj lub competition amongst Hmong American teams is conducted every year.

There have been many changes in Hmong’s tradition and lifestyle through the days; however, they can still keep their unique and popular points in their culture. This culture will be continually passed down on younger generations to be preserved and developed.

Project Sprouts is a grassroots initiative to help schools, students, and communities in Vietnam. We work a lot in the Hmong communities in North Vietnam. All our proceeds go to help those in need. Please help us by giving to our cause so we can help those in need. You can give by clicking here.

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James Johnstone
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