Hmong funerals: One of the most interesting parts of Hmong. A time to grieve, remember, show respect, talk, visit, even laugh. A time to help the deceased’s spirit to its ancestors. … There are four major steps in a Hmong funeral. The first is as follows: The dead body is dressed in traditional Hmong clothes. But not just any traditional clothing, these are funeral clothes … After being dressed the body is placed on a table. (Later it will be put in a coffin.)
The body would be dressed in traditional clothes made by the family. It would be made completely out of cloth and other disposable materials. If anything in the coffin could not [decompose] it would bring bad luck to the family.
People who don’t like the person who died will often put some kind of metal in the coffin so the person’s spirit will not be able to rest in peace.
The body lies, dressed in colorful clothing in the center of the stage, not yet in a casket, for the people that attend the funeral to say their goodbyes and offer any objects or words to help the deceased retrace the steps of her life.
One of the points of funerals is to get the spirit of the dead person back to the place of birth to get the placenta, so it can enter the spirit world.
When a baby girl is born, her placenta is put under the bed in the house. When the boy is born, his placenta goes in the center post of the house. A person called the Txiv Taw Kev guides the deceased on a journey to her/his past by going to wherever they came first in America to Thailand to Mekong River to the person’s village in Laos, then they go back to where they were born.
If the person is old, it takes many hours to lead the spirit through all the home of life and to the placenta. But it doesn’t take very long if the person is young.
The second step involves a rooster, a special man (the Txiv Taw Kev), some spirits, and some gifts.
The Txiv Taw Kev will ask her questions such as, “Are you really dead?” Of course she won’t answer, but somehow the man knows.
The spiritual guide ceremonially tells the spirit of the deceased that they will be going through the locations in her life, backwards. He guides her back through her life to the spot of her birth to get her placenta, which is the afterbirth. The qeej player also helps her with this. The placenta is very important, because without it the deceased cannot enter the underworld.
It is the rooster’s spirit that guides the spirit to its ancestors. The person’s spirit takes their placenta, gifts, food, money and a crossbow for protection as they set off to find the ancestors. … The food is to eat, and the money to pass gates.
Once the rooster crows and the ancestor's rooster crows to answer it then it has found your true ancestor! Then it is sacrificed to lead the spirit to the ancestor and to be like the spirit’s pet. It’s killed by cutting its neck half way with a knife. Parts like the liver are put in a container to be the spirit’s food.
Usually this takes about two hours, and during that time they are play the qeej. … Also during that time, family and friends bless the deceased and ask/wish for good luck or a blessing for them too.
The step[s] of killing the rooster [are] hold the rooster very tight so it won’t get away, then you cut the neck to half way, then you take out the rooster liver to cook and then feed to the dead person, and then put the rooster in a box with the person who passed away.
Step 3 involves a qeej (keng), its player, the body, body carriers, a drum and a drummer. A special song on the qeej is played with a drum accompaniment as the body is carried, still in traditional clothes, to the coffin. This song can last up to 2 hours.
Lots of animals are sacrificed at a funeral. Almost always a rooster is sacrificed, but if the person is married they have to sacrifice [anything] from a pig to a cow. If they are not married, or are young, they do not have to make much of a sacrifice. A cow is sacrificed by tying a string to it and putting the end of the string in the dead person’s hands.
Traditionally, there would be four qeej players, animals would be ceremonially sacrificed at a butcher shop, and the body would be hung on the wall. There will be more than four at this funeral, the animals will be sacrificed at a farm (as there won’t be any butcher shops nearby), and in Madison they can’t hang the body on the walls as it’s going to be done at a funeral parlor. Fue Chou passed around a photo of the cows that will be sacrificed. I noted that they are somewhat shaggy.
There will be soda or liquor in small cups and that will be given to the entire clan/family.
Everybody will sit and remember [the deceased]. There might be crying, laughing, people visiting with old friends, and the qeej and drum. It depends how long this lasts. For Tria Thao, it will take longer because she was an elder. This and the spiritual journey are usually one very long part of the 3 or 4 day funeral.
To some people a Hmong funeral is a strange thing. But if you actually start to kind of understand them, they are not very strange. I don’t think they sound too strange.
One last thing: If you ever go to a Hmong funeral, don’t be surprised if there is laughter. Hmong funerals are part funeral, part family reunion.