We went to the Kohler Art Center on our quest for Hmong culture.
When we arrived at the Art Center, we were greeted by a wonderful lady named Lisa. She told us that 20 years ago, they had started an exhibit on Hmong art at a festival. That is what got Mr. Wagler (our teacher) interested in Hmong culture.
While we walked through the Kohler Art Center we saw a shoe display. The shoe I remember the most was the shoe with the alligator head in place of the toe. When we got to the back of the Center we looked at a whole lot of Hmong objects. A Hmong lady named Paulina and her two aunts showed us her Hmong objects that we actually got to touch and hold. We held a ball that is used in the ball toss game, a picture of some people in Laos, and a thing that is used to carry babies.
There was a baby carrier and Paulina demonstrated how to put it on. The strap goes over the mother’s shoulders, under the baby’s arms and then supports its behind. In Laos the mothers carried their babies everywhere with them.
There was also a baby hat that is supposed to protect the baby from the sun when the parents are working out in the fields. There was a New Years hat for a baby.
The hats women wear have colors that are bright and have many Hmong coins hanging off the hat so it’s touching your head. When I put one on its really up to my eyes so I can’t really see.
The clothes Hmong boys wear mostly black or white. It depends what kind of Hmong you are. If you’re green Hmong, you wear green sleeves. If you’re striped, you wear striped sleeves. It goes on and on.
We saw an incredibly strange story cloth that had words instead of pictures. Not a picture in sight!
There was a story cloth that ended in “and.” I wonder why it ended in an and. Maybe so it would let you finish the story or maybe it is continued someplace else or even maybe some sort of a tradition.
Story cloths are “quilts” that tell stories. The Hmong quilts are called paj ntaubs (pandaus). It means storycloths. Story cloths are made by hand by Hmong womans. It’s very hard to make a story cloth by yourself. You need lots of help from elders.
Storycloths were the only way of passing on stories non-orally. Because there was no Hmong alphabet. They invented one in the 1900s.
Storycloths are a piece of needlework that tell a story through characters sewed onto cloth. We saw lots of storycloths on our tour. The largest was at the Hmong American Friendship Building. At the center in Green Bay, we saw a story cloth about the Hmong and Americans fighting the Vietnamese. At the Kohler Arts Center there was a story cloth about the ball toss game.
The most common border on a storycloth is the mountain pattern. It can be blue or purple, and the pattern is made by forming light and dark triangles. Another word for storycloth is paj ntaub (pandau).
The lady that was in charge of the exhibit told us that this “paj ntaub” has glittery parts because it was just a design and it was supposed to interest people. There is one that is needleworked by Black Hmong and it was a cross-stitch of a baby carriage.
At the end of seeing the exhibit, they led us to a long table covered with things we could touch. I quickly became attached to a bucket of thread. Not just any thread! The softest thread you ever felt!
It’s a shame how much culture is lost because of the war...