Sarah and Gabby | Maggie
Almost all of the Hmong people in Wisconsin
either lived in Laos or had relatives who did. The Hmong were
happy in the mountains of Laos, although they didn’t
have television or telephones. They found other ways to communicate
and entertain themselves. But because of the Vietnam War and
a couple other minor wars the Hmong were forced to refugee
camps in Thailand. It was a tough journey and they were always
in fear of being killed. After spending many hard months in
the refugee camps families were chosen to come into the U.S.A.
and start new lives.
Although most of them were young, the Hmong have memories
of life in Laos, and many families have gone back to visit
relatives and villages they once knew so well. We learned
about life in Laos through pictures and orally, but also Laos
was connected in other ways such as shamanism and funerals
and qeej playing.
One of our first visitors, Dang Yang, lived in Laos for the
first few years of his life. He makes all kinds of Hmong instruments,
all of them were made in Laos. He showed us the Hmong violin
that had been brought from Laos. The violin had a colorful
head of a dragon at the top of the instrument’s neck.
Sue Bassett came and showed us photos of life in Laos. I
thought it was amazing how they built bamboo houses with thatched
roofs from scratch, and kept their animals running freely.
The children had to help around the house, but also had fun
playing in the mud and inventing other games.
Also, at a four-day Hmong funeral, the spirit makes a journey
back to Laos (through the spirit world) to receive her placenta.
The journey is like a life reward. They travel from America
to Thailand camps, across the Mekong River and back to where
they were born in Laos.
In the case of shamanism, the shaman travels to the spirit
world, which is a form of Laos and the shaman’s early
life memories. He/she takes a sword and shield to protect
them from the evil spirits. The shaman also carries money
in case the spirits won’t let him pass.
Whether your spirit or your body travels to Laos, your eyes
or your mind, the memories of life in Laos will always be
a huge part of Hmong culture.
–Sarah and Gabby
The Journey back to Laos [section] can
have several categories: funerals, shamanism, traveling, storytelling,
music, sacrifices, and more. I feel that strongly, without
these wonderful things, life would be very… lost indeed.
Funerals are one of the most powerful experiences I can find.
Most of them take over one day, maybe even over four days!
On the first day, there’s mostly exchanging of happy
memories, music, ceremonies, and – laughter. Laughing
doesn’t happen very much at American funerals, but it
happens at Hmong funerals. The body of the deceased isn’t
put in the coffin right away. The body is laid on a kind of
platform and later moved into the coffin. There is crying,
but it isn’t usually very much in the beginning, growing
more and more in the late first and early second days. It’s
a strong, powerful, emotional thing if you’re actually
Sacrificing actually connects with funerals. In the funeral,
a rooster and maybe a cow are sacrificed. The rooster is to
guide the spirit back to its ancestors, back through the places
the person lived when he/she was alive. Qeej music is also
used to guide the spirit. Sometimes, qeej players have to
play for days and nights in a row! This is done by having
one player play for a while, then send in another, then change
to another, and so on.
Journeying to Laos can be done in many different ways. I
hope I’ve told enough.