Displaying a paj ntaub (storycloth) Mayhoua Lee Yang explains the significance of animal horns Top spinning A shaman's altar Egg rolls Shaman playing the qeej

Location | Themes | Reflections | How We Did It

Introduction: Keeping Traditions

Emma | Gabby | Izzy S. | Cristina | Maggie

Fun, games, get-togethers; those are all things families do to keep traditions alive. They also go to things like church or temple or other things like that. It is very interesting the way families pass down cooking, games and traditions. It seems like maybe you have no culture but you do.

Some games are a simple as “ball toss” or even tag and foodways are different all over, not only in different countries, but also your own state. Like egg rolls and tamales are different and hamburger and dried fruit are different. Your culture and traditions of religious places and church and temple are journeys. They are hard not to lose in mainstream culture.

The Hmong have done a good job of keeping their traditions here.

Like crafts, basket making, sewing, and all other kinds of stuff. The paj ntaub has changed from traditional to story cloths. The basket making has changed by the materials from bamboo to plastic.

A lot of the games have stayed the same, like tublub, the rubber band game, the rock and sticks game and a whole lot more.

The music has changed in the sense that not many still know how to play the instruments, and also there are not many occasions where they sing.

The medical practices have changed in some ways. Some people still are shamans and some still ask for help from them. But some have converted to Christians and don’t believe in shamanism so they just go to a regular doctor.

The foodways barely have changed for most people. Most still eat rice and meat for every meal of the day.

They also kept weddings and funerals and other traditional ceremonies.

Keeping traditions is very important for Hmong elders but not as important for most Hmong kids. This is an argument most Hmong families have in the U.S. How much of this culture should we absorb and how much of our own culture should we keep. Most Hmong elders think that they should keep more than the things kids think they should keep. This brings up another question, “Are we Hmong or American?”

In an effort to help keep the Hmong culture alive, a lot of elders are teaching young boys to play the qeej and Hmong girls to sew. They are also holding Hmong celebration hoping their children will do the same and keep traditions from Laos going, like ball tossing, having traditional funerals and marriages.

Dr. Bee is a perfect example that some Hmong are using their Hmong traditions to make money. Dr. Bee who uses the Hmong ideas of healing with natural things isn’t the only one. Lots of women make money selling their needlework to the Hmong community and even sometimes others that admire it. I know some people even made money from a class of kids that were studying their culture. Weird, huh!
–Izzy S.

Most people we interviewed/talked to are trying to keep their culture. The parents are trying to tell their children to stick to Hmong culture in the house but at school we heard they said they wanted their children to stay American in school.

I think Hmong children and teenagers have been keeping their games culture. I mean if I were Hmong, which I am not, I’d probably keep it in my life. I mean the games are fun. I just need a few more lessons on playing tublub. But I still say the games are fun. I’m not saying they are better than other games, but I’m just saying they’re neat to play. I’m sure most Hmong are still playing the Hmong games because they’re great to play. You can play them when you can’t go outside except the one with the rubber band because it’s hard to play indoors. When we first played it, we had a hard time playing outside so it will [definitely be played] indoors.

Hmong music is neat, but most Americans don’t understand the music. Most Hmong kids and children are keeping their music culture. Boys play the qeej since the age of eight or nine. Girls help parents make the instruments. It’s cool making instruments then saying, hey I just learned something. I think most Hmong have kept their music. Children at school listen to other kinds of music. I think they still like their Hmong music. So I’ve got to say something about Hmong adult kids and that is most children in the school are trying to keep their culture but, they also have other favorite foods, games, music, crafts, and you’re going to have to work with those changes. But some aren’t.

I think Hmong food is good, especially the most popular Hmong food which is sticky rice with egg rolls. Most people/kids/children/teenagers like Hmong food, so I think they’ve kept the food they eat. At least I would!

The way most Hmong people heal is by steaming some plants so it could be ready to heal. They use different kinds of plants. I don’t really know the names of them. If they don’t use the plants to heal, then in that case, they use the shaman. They’re one of the best, a first place healer.

I think that one of the most important things about keeping traditions is practices: medical practices, musical practice, crafts practices, etc. I feel that without them, Hmong culture wouldn’t be the same. Traditions are crucial for culture. I especially feel that it’s important to keep Hmong traditions alive if we are to keep Hmong culture alive.

Hmong people are eating Hmong foods, speaking Hmong language, taking trips to Laos, playing Hmong instruments, using Hmong medicines and herbs for healing, along with shamanism and many other things to keep the culture alive – by taking life and traditions from Laos and bringing them to America, where they have to struggle to just keep them existing, to make it so that Hmong people don’t all totally become Americans forever, letting go of beliefs and traditions of a precious culture. Keeping traditions is a very important thing to be able to look back in the future and remember that we need to help these people. Or, we can look back and get a long-forgotten culture restarted and continue studying.

An excellent example of someone who really works at keeping traditions is Thai Vang (Tye Vah), a young shaman, a qeej player, a son in a family, and a schoolboy. We call him “young” because most shamans are 60, or around there, while Thai is only sixteen!

I know that another good example is Dang Yang (Dah Yah), a Hmong instrument maker here in America. One of the most special instruments he has is a certain Hmong violin, with a beautiful dragon’s head carved out at the top. The colors seem to glow, with extensive beauty, describing all the features and values of the instrument.

Some valuable traditions are games, music, healing and medical practices, crafts, foodways, holidays, clothes, and more. If we lose these, Hmong traditional culture is lost.