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I grew up listening to stories from my parents and my grandma. My mom told me that the Hmong people passed down their stories through story-telling because only a few Hmong knew how to read and write in Hmong. One of story that repeated in my family was the journey to America. My father ran through the jungle of Laos when he was nine years old and my mother was seven. For three years, my father’s family ran through the jungle of Laos. He never explained the historical context that was happening. All he said was that the “Nplog liab,” also known as the Viet Cong were prosecuting the Hmong in Laos because we have helped the CIA of the United States. That was all I really knew back then. Not until I was older that I realized that the stories from my grandparents and my parents were memories that defined our identities, culture and religion. Their memories and stories were the only way they connect and remember their past. Oral story-telling was the only way they can tell their children the history of the Hmong and the personal account of their lives.
I believe that the Hmong history is so vital in understanding how the Hmong people have practice their religious belief for years. Because of relocating to new homes due to wars throughout history, the religious practices, rituals and traditions of Hmong Shamanism has been changed throughout the years. Hmong Shamanism have and will continue to transform and change American society. It may be preserved in that the population of the Hmong population is also increasing. In addition, Because the Hmong people are over the world, Hmong Shamanism has also been transform differently and similarly in other countries as well. Not only have Hmong Shamanism transformed, other religion in America has also converted many Hmong people in America as well. Thus, providing a more religious perspectives to the Hmong community. However, traditional Hmong religion, Hmong Shamanism, is unique in that it is the “original,” or “first,” religion that the Hmong practices and even today in America.
Hmong Shamanism is a very controversial topic especially among the younger generations of Hmong people because some of them may have converted to Christianity and will therefore be offended if they were exposed to Hmong religiosity and vice versa. A couple of the people that we interviewed were Christians. At times like the Hmong New Year, they hesitate to talk about hu plig events because they do not perform soul-calling events in their own homes. A constant argument from the Hmong people who believe in Shamanism was that Hmong religiosity made one Hmong. But somehow to incorporate it into a school Hmong New Year (a public event), it somehow no longer fit according to those who have converted to Christianity. Being a Hmong person who partially participated in Hmong Shamanism growing up and still believes in the Shamanistic ways, it was very interesting to learn of different peoples’ views on Shamanism and Shamanistic rituals.
One way that our people are connected is our identity of being Hmong. Who knew that being Hmong in America could distance a group so much from each other? Through this project, I learned a lot about the people around me. I learned how far people went to get rid of something that had meant so much to them back when they had nothing. I had hoped that with this project, I could learn how rituals were performed or why they did certain things. I wanted to learn about Hmong Shamanism because in my family, we are slowly losing grasp of Hmong religiosity because of the American influence. I wanted to learn the process of rituals so that if my parents were to leave this world, I would still have our religious history to carry on to my children. Through looking for these answers, I suddenly started realizing that Hmong people are slowly dying out. I started asking in my interviews about the ways to preserve the meaning of being Hmong. What I discovered is that Hmong Shamanism although it is slipping away, is the answer to keeping us together. Most of the people that we interviewed were of the 1.75 and second generation of Hmong. 1.75-generation consists of Hmong people who were born in Thailand, but came to the United States before the age of two. The second generation is those who were born in the United States. Since our 1.75 to second generation of Hmong people are forgetting about Hmong religiosity, how much longer do we have before the Hmong people and culture really die out?
I went into this project expecting for more people to value Hmong Shamanism, but in order to make this project work, I decided to be more open-minded. My open-mindedness gave me very different views that were valuable to our project. There was the interview with Judy Yang where she said that within the next ten years, the Hmong culture and religion are probably going to become lost. I found her answer very interesting. Now I would like to find ways to preserve Hmong Shamanism. Some of the people that we interviewed answered in a similar way. John Moua specifically said that Hmong Shamanism is going to disappear because the younger generations are “lazy” and does not want to deal with long rituals and chants. I somewhat agree with this because I, myself, would not have asked so much about Shamanism if I was not in the process of becoming a Shaman or not doing a project and research about it. It is not necessarily that I am lazy, but that I lack the people who have knowledge about Hmong Shamanism. I hope that Hmong Shamanism will continue to exist because it is so unique and if it were to disappear, Hmong people disappear with it.
I was told to avoid the question of religion vs. tradition, but I wanted to know how other Hmong people differentiate them. I gained really interesting answers from this question. I received answers questioning whether Hmong Shamanism should even be considered a religion or whether Shamanism is even the correct term. I learned so much with this project and would love to hear more stories about Hmong Shamanism or just Hmong people in general. I want to preserve Hmong Shamanism, but I am useless because I do not possess any khua neeb and am not a male. Apparently, only males can pass on religion and traditions. I hope that one day we won’t just be another Asian face, but be known as Hmong: with history and culture.
Yer Moua, Carleton College, 2015
Yer Moua lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and is currently a student at Carleton College, class of 2015. She recently declared Psychology as her major. Outside of school, she spends her time catering to her interests of playing the piano and singing. Yer Moua is the oldest daughter of six kids and as the oldest daughter, she takes care of her whole family. From the time spent with her parents and siblings, she has developed a deeper interest, connection, and need to revive her culture and religion.