| Erika | Jeremy
| Izzy | Sara K.
How the Room Looked: Dylan
| Benjamin | Dylan
and Erika | Sara K. | Emma
| Nate | Cristina
| Dylan | Abigail
| Izzy | Sarah M.
The Ceremonies and Traditions: The Spirit’s
Journey: Sara K. | Abigail
| Izzy | Abigail
| Sarah M. | Abigail
| Sarah | Pao
Music, Ceremonies and Rituals: Erika
| Pao | Sara K. |
Pao | Izzy | Martha
Music: Pao | Sarah
M. | Sara K. | Nate
Family Members: Mariah
| Mark | Gabby
The Body and Clothes: Benjamin
| Nate | Jeremy
| Gabby | Sarah M.
Coffin: Jeremy | Sarah
M. | Izzy | Alex
Spirit Money: Unknown
| Benjamin | Abigail
Lasting Impressions: Cristina
| Emma | Mariah
On Friday, February 14, 2003, my class went to a Hmong funeral.
It was my first funeral, same with some other classmates.
Dhia Thao was 88 when she died. She died of health problems.
She came to America in 1976, and then worked in a pickle factory
with her son. Dhia Thao had seven children, 5 boys and 2 girls.
When I first walked in it was exciting,
being at a Hmong funeral. It wasn’t at all what culture
I knew. It was astonishing to me. I had expected people crying
– black – a coffin. Well, that’s not what
I found. When I entered the space, where the body was held,
I got nervous. A lot of people were staring – looking
– glancing, but then I noticed they were all saying
we got off the bus, I was all happy. We entered the building.
I experienced a little bit of culture shock.
“Our culture is strange to others,”
said Fue Chou Thao, a Hmong man at the funeral. The Hmong
have very different funerals from you and me. Their funerals
are for four days starting at 8 on Friday and going till noon
on Monday. How long the different ceremonies are depend on
how old the person is when they die. There have been certain
changes since the Hmong have moved from Laos to America.
3 1/2 days of rituals aren’t all funeral. They are also
the graveside ceremonies and the wake all put into one. It’s
hard to say how long each part of it is because they are all
How the Room Looked
When we got there, Fue Chou Thao greeted
us and gave us seats where the ceremonies would be done.
I knew this would turn out to be greatly
amazing and it was. Chairs for the audience, a carpeted floor,
couches, the spiritual guide, the dead body, the qeej player,
the drum, the gifts, the spirit money and the coffin. Amazing.
The woman who had died was lying
near the front of the room. She wasn’t in a coffin.
She was just on the floor.
–Dylan and Erika
Sitting next to her was a Hmong man.
…The man was a (spiritual) guide. …At the table
that the man was sitting at were some small pieces of paper
with bars of silver on them. They were supposed to work as
money in Dhia’s new life. There was also a box next
to the table. It had an umbrella and some food and drink that
she would need in her next life.
A big drum is hung from a pyramid made
from wood. They beat the drum and then hang it.
There are many pictures of Dhia on the
walls of the funeral home.
Then Abigail came running up to me
saying how Dhia died and all that kind of stuff. So I said
“How do you know all that stuff?” She said “Her
life is on that paper over there. I went and read it.”
So I went and I found out she was a strong women that had
seven children and two heart attacks.
In another room there were flowers and
wreaths that I am guessing were for the family, to show respect.
As we walked in the door, we were welcomed
by people who were sitting, chatting, enjoying themselves.
It didn’t really seem like a funeral at all except for
the body of 88-yr old Dhia Thao, dressed in colorful clothes
and her family and in-laws at her side.
Most were totally open to having a dead
person in the room.
Most of the people around us were men.
They were talking and laughing happily with each other. The
women were in two different places. They were in the far side
of the room hanging up paper string and folded paper that
looked like boats. There were thousands of these hanging up
in an X-shape across the ceiling. The center point of the
X was directly above the body of the deceased, Dhia Tao. We
later found that the paper objects were a form on money. ...
(the other place were the women were) was a room very similar
to the one where the funeral was being held that was reserved
for women to go and talk to each other.
I saw no one crying but I bet as the
days go on there will be more emotional behavior because it
getting to the point where they have to say goodbye.
The Ceremonies and Traditions: The Spirit’s
The Hmong believe in spirits
and reincarnation. I don’t really understand what a
spirit is, but the whole funeral is basically about helping
the spirit get back to its ancestors so it can live again.
The Hmong have a belief that in order
to get into the spirit world, the spirit has to go through
all of the places it lived in, and finally get to the place
of birth to get the placenta so it can show the placenta to
his/her ancestors and pass into the spirit world. The spiritual
guide tells her/him where to go and what to do.
…A man plays the qeej. They are
instructed by the qeej music to go find their placenta. At
birth a girl’s placenta is put under the bed and a boy’s
near the center pole. So there is a rooster present and a
man talks to the person and guides them to all the places
they have lived and then when they finally get to the place
they were born and get their placenta they can go to their
ancestors and the rooster guides them to their ancestors.
Depending how old the person is it takes longer because they
have been to more places than someone that died younger.
After the spiritual
guide has gotten her/him to the placenta, a rooster is brought
in to the body’s presence. When it crows, that tells
the spirit “I have found your true ancestor,”
and it tells the way. After it crows, it is sacrificed, to
be like the pet of the spirit.
When we were there, the rooster was
killed outside. From then on the rooster will serve as her
guide. When Dhia Thao comes across a spirit she will not know
if he/she is here ancestor or not. So, the rooster gives his
Cock-a-Doodle-Doo call, and if the spirit’s rooster
answers, that means Yes, the spirit is a true ancestor.
The liver and other parts are given
to the spirit as food, buried beside the coffin.
From the moment a Hmong person is born,
there is a house spirit that lives in the house and protects
her. When the Hmong person dies, she will have to leave the
house and make her journey. The Txiv Taw Kev guides her through
this part. (The twix taw kev is the spiritual guide.) The
spirit will try to keep her in the house.
If the spirit in the house says that you
can’t go, then you’ll have to pay and say that
I am dead now and I have to leave this house. I don’t
belong here any more, I belong in the spirit world with my
ancestors. If you don’t let me go, I’ll pay you.
Music, Ceremonies and Rituals
When the spiritual guide does his ceremony
80-90% of it is specially designed for her (the deceased).
The other 10%-20% that’s left is used in every Hmong
“There is a spirit man who talks
to the dead person on the first day of the funeral. He tells
the spirit to go to the other world.
The (spiritual) guide started singing
and throwing a bamboo stick split in half to make two. While
he was singing he was asking her questions or something and
if he threw them and …
…If both are face down, it means
no and the spirits are happy. If two of them are face up,
it means the humans are happy and no. But if one is face down
and one is face up, it means the both spirits and humans are
happy and it means yes.
one was up and one down the family members kneeling by the
coffin holding incense would bow twice in a sign of thanks.
Cows and pigs were also sacrificed to
act as food and something to carry things on. The sacrificed
rooster’s liver is fed to the Spirit. While the larger
animals are being sacrificed, there is a rope or string connecting
the body to the animal. Many people will often hold the rope
or string. My class did not see any of the sacrifices happening.
The rooster was killed outside and the cows at a farm.
In Hmong funerals, you have to have four
qeej players along with some drum players. The job for the
qeej players and the drum player are to send the dead person
to the other world. The qeej is saying “go to the other
world, we don’t want you to stay so you don’t
scare us, go to your ancestors.
The qeej playing is a very important
part of the funeral. There are many many different songs played.
The songs can last an hour or two hours, and that might seem
very long, but
it really isn’t because the funeral ceremonies last
for 3+ days!!! Many of the songs the qeej plays are to thank
mother earth, the relative and friends of the deceased and
all the spirits that have helped her in her life.
When the qeej players play, they play
stories. Some about the sun and moon, others about mother
earth and the sky.
The twix taw kev will sing for a very
long time in the funerals, with the sons and daughters of
the deceased mourning and bowing to the corpse of their old,
Right next to Dhia Thao her family was
blowing with incense because they were wishing themselves
Her family members would be around her
When people brought a gift, the family
would come and bow and say thanks and the people who gave
the gift would repeat.
The Body and Clothes
Dhia was dressed in special “funeral
clothes” that had been prepared for her
Dhia is dressed for all seasons with
show shoes, a traditional Hmong coat, an umbrella and a crossbow.
The coat and snow shoes are for winter, the umbrella if for
rainy times and the crossbow for hunting and killing animals
…the body (was) covered with
the beautiful clothes of the traditional clothing of the Hmong.
She had a black and white polka-dotted “turban”
around her head. The upper part of the body had mostly blues
and a little bit of white and black in some places near the
arms. The lower par of the body in my perspective was a lot
prettier than the upper part. It had pink, orange, blue and
a lot of other colors. The feet had grass woven soles and
The outfit she wears has never been
worn before. Also the shoes are made especially for snow because
it is cold in China where she will end up.
(The shoes were) purple with the toes
There were pieces of rope on the bottom, to make the shoes
serve as show shoes in case of bad weather on her journey
through the spiritual world back to her birthplace.
What was neat was that people would
come up and fix something. It the shoe was coming off, they’d
slip it on. If a button was undone, they’d come and
Her coffin was made out of a tree found
in Laos that is like a pine tree. The coffin was made in Laos,
The wood came all the way from a cedar
tree in Laos and smelled really good and fresh.
The coffin … was put together with
wood nails. This is a tradition. No metal things can be put
in the coffin because it brings bad luck to the person in
their next life or the relatives that are still alive. So,
on Saturday all of the family members guard the coffin to
make sure no one puts any metal in.
Fue Chou explained to us that there are
many different kinds of coffins. Some are very fancy, with
lots of swirls and such carved in. The one there was standard,
not too fancy and not too plain.
Hanging from the ceiling were paper
boats with gold and silver foil on them. These represent gold
and silver bars for wealth in the other world. The paper boats
are made by the family of the one who has died. They can begin
making the boats as soon as the person has died.
Spirit money is money that is burned
after the dead person’s spirit has finished its journey.
Some money is taken by the spirit to pay as it passes through
the gate. The money in Laos was actually gold and silver bars.
Here, because we don’t use that, they use pieces of
paper that are folded into the shape of a boat they have painted
gold for gold bars and silver for silver bars.
Even the spirits need money.
When we got on the bus, I felt proud
I decided to come to the funeral, but half of me said to stay,
so I got kind of scared I made the wrong decision. When my
class and I got there, I felt very scared because of the dead
body. I want to explore a new culture because of the exciting
activities, food, etc. But in the other way, I wanted to stay
at school. … Then we went in where the dead body was
and sat in that room. I kept on telling Melissa “I’m
scared, are you scared …” … So I just opened
my Hmong Culture notebook and wrote what people were doing.
We went in to the room where the dead body was. Then everyone
looked at us and got us and said “Here are some chairs
you can sit on. … They were very nice. I felt right
at home with different styles and the dead body.
I am glad I went to the funeral. It was
a powerful experience for me. I appreciate them letting us
come and see their culture.
There was a spiritual guide at the
funeral. He sang the whole time! His voice must have been
tired at the end.
I’ll never forget this funeral.
It was really a good experience. I can’t wait to go