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SHAMAN-UA NEEB

The Hmong practice shamanism and ancestor worship. Like other animists, they also believe that all things are endowed with spiritual beings and so should be respected.

 
 

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History of the Hmong People

 

About Hmong

In the early 1970's, Laos was the subject of concerted American attention as the Vietnam War widened. During this time, the Hmong people of Laos were allies of the American.  During that war, from the 1960 to the 1970, the Hmong forces, fighting with the CIA were used in combat and flight operations, intelligence gathering and the rescuing of downed American pilots. After the war, in 1975, a communist revolution and the establishment of the present communist government in Laos resulted these people alone with other with other minorities being persecuted in their homeland. Fleeing for their lives, the Hmong left Laos and resided in refugee camps in Thailand. Between 10 and 20 thousand Lao-Hmong soldiers were killed during the war, and over 150 thousand had to flee to escape ethnic cleansing. Between 1975 and 1995, the communist government in Laos killed over 300,000 people including members of the Lao royal family, government officials, civil servants, military personnel and members of ethnic minorities including the Hmong.

In the late 1980s, the American government helped the Hmong people resettle to the United States. With assistance, from numerous church, community organizations and government agencies, we have proudly settled in the United States of American and have become Americans. Up until 40 years ago, the Hmong people lived in the mountains and valleys of Laos. We had no written language, except for our elder priests who kept our family records in Chinese. Originally, our people came from Northern China, according to legend, were the discoverers of rice, and we have kept our unique and vibrant culture wherever we have gone—from Northern China to Southern China, to Laos, and now, the United States.

We love Alaska. It reminds us in climate and terrain of our ancestral homes. The United States government has been helpful in passing legislation allowing us to resettle, to obtain citizenship, and to thrive here.

Hmong Culture

For our community to continue to thrive in American, we need to create understand with our adopted communities about our customs. We, in the Hmong community, realize that there is a widening chasm between the young people born in the United States and those of us who came here from Laos and follow the old traditions. This chasm has led to a loss of your young people of identity and pride in themselves which we hope to repair through pride in the culture, religion and families. Our young people are our future, and we need to have them to have pride in their culture so they can confidently and successfully thrive in modern America.
In Anchorage, there are over 500 families (and growing), averaging around nine members each. These families also belong to clans which are identified by the last name. In Hmong culture, there are 18 clans, and 12 are represented in Anchorage, Alaska. People many not marry within the same clan. Among our community this is strictly enforced. Our community leaders now help in the mediation among our community of problems, organizing festivals, celebrating holidays and family events. We want to continue in the role, and offer our services wherever it will be helpful.

We, Hmong, also have our own sports which we still play in our community. These games- Kato, Tulu, and Tops are played at local Elementary schools and high school among our children and adults. We believe our young people can gain much by continuation of these sport traditions.

Our preeminent religious tradition is Buddhist/Animist. Our spiritual tradition is very important to our everyday life. Even if individual members do not practice Buddhism, its traditions are relied upon as a model for behavior. We are known for the familiar way in which we treat each other, developments in each other’s lives. In our culture, many problems can be solved by resorting to the wisdom of our own community’s leaders and elders.
 

The Hmong culture in Laos was an agrarian society, intimately connected to the land as farmers in the mountains, with a rich cultural tradition of hard work, respect for elders, and worship of the natural world. Respect and worship to our ancestors was especially important for we believe in the spirituality of all people—past and present.  We also believe that all of nature is inhabited by spirits which influence daily life. Through our elder shamans or priests, our people connect with the spirits of our ancestors and the natural world. Respect for the extended family and homage to our departed is central to our culture. Connection with nature is enhanced through our religious ceremonies which many times involve the sacrifice of animal spirits to the spirits upset some people; it really is like Thanksgiving, or eating of lamb on Easter by Christian Americans. The importance of these offering is to provide a tie between the generation and each other on special occasions. The respect for shamans or people who have a special talent to connect with this spirit world is central to the cohesion of our community and its traditions.

This aspect of our culture is probably the most misunderstood and a description of these ceremonies may help in understanding. Ceremonies are very important in our culture, and they include:

Marriage

People may not marry within the same clan. Among our community this is strictly enforced. Whenever a man and a woman seek to marry both families become busy preparing their separate roles in the marriage. The bride and groom’s family must prepare a pig and chickens for a sacrifice to the ancestors’ spirits. These sacrifices of a pig and chickens are conducted by shamans or people chosen because they understand the necessary preparations for the ancestors. Preparation of the necessary ceremony involves the giving of a feast, in which the pig and chickens are presented to the ancestors first with proper prayers and other offering, and then to the guests. The groom’s family must pay for everything, for the bride is becoming a member of the groom’s family. Like marriage in any culture, members of the family and community are invited from both sides for a celebration.

Divorce in our community required certain ceremony for purposes of recognition as well. For minor infidelities, fins can be imposed on the husband or wife. For a divorce to actually occur, the elders meet with the couples and the couple is required to compromise 3 times each before they can divorce. This stresses the necessity of compromise and reconciliation before divorce can proceed. If a divorce occurs, the elders of the community help to divide property in a fair way, with all the property accounted for, and arrangements for the children agreed upon. We now do this in a document kept by all the people involved in the agreement. Normally, in our culture, a person may not marry again for 6 months.

Funerals

A death is a family also requires a ceremony. Like many of Hmong ceremonies, this also required a sacrifice for offering to the ancestors and a feast afterwards. The funeral sacrifice is of a cow. The live cow is led to the body of the deceased and the reins are placed the hand of the deceased, representing the animal will go with the deceased’ spirit. The cow is then sacrificed through humane butchering, and the funeral is attended by the community. In the past, the butchering of the cow has been done on a farm in the valley, but the community would like to conduct these at the place of the funeral.

Holidays

Our main holiday is a New Year’s celebration on November 26-28. The entire month is taken up with this celebration. During this month there are restrictions on the spending of money, going outside during certain times, sexual relations, among others. A tree is erected in the lawn of the home during the 26th through the 28th, and blessing of the tree is done by a shaman. Again, in this ceremony, a rooster is sacrificed, swung on a line, and then hung on the tree in front of the home. Later, the rooster is used in the feast. This ceremony created good fortune for the family in the coming year and many people; including men, women, and children attend. The shaman assists in coming up with prediction for the new year (similar to the tradition of a New Year’s resolution).

Other events

Births, coming of age ceremonies, engagement, birthdays, special offering to spirits of ancestors to help in times of illness also require ceremonies which include the participation of shaman, the offering of animals or food and prayers, and large gatherings. Through these ceremonies, our people keep their ties to nature and their ancestors. Hmong believe these ceremonies are what tie one generation to all generation of the past, and provide a smooth life here on earth in the present. By participation in these ceremonies, the community is connected to each other, and families are connected to each other—past, present and future. We, Hmong Americans, only wish to exercise our rights to practice our religion and to maintain our tradition. It is our hope that this statement, and our offer to intervene in situations on behalf of our community can lead to respectful treatment by authorities and the understanding of our neighbors.