Hmong Traditional Funerals

Hmong people see the death of a loved one as an important part of life. Of course death is not a joyous occasion, but marks “the transition for the human soul.”1  A typical Hmong funeral lasts for three days and nights. A funeral of this length means that the deceased is a well-respected person and has lived a wonderful life. The family members of the deceased will stay at the funeral for the entirety of the three days and nights and comfort each other. When entering into a funeral home, you may see lots of heart-shaped and circular-shaped memorials made from the paper money, money that is of no use to humans but is valuable in the afterlife.

A number of roles are important to the funeral process. There are the niam ua mov, literally "women who cook."  There are 2-4 txiv qeej, men who play the qeej, an instrument that can be used for musical or ritual purposes. There is also a tus ntaub nruab, a man who plays the large drum called the the nruab.  Finally, there is the txiv xaiv, a man who chants in order to lead the deceased back home on the correct path.

All together, the three male roles will lead the deceased back to his or her home. Hmong tradition teaches that when persons pass away, they will go back and visit each place that they have been to, with the last destination being their birthplace. Thus when the txiv xaiv chants, the deceased will be able to hear his voice and take the correct journey home. This is also the reason why the placenta is traditionally buried under the house in which the child was born. For many of the Hmong elders, this is in Laos or Thailand. The Hmong belief is that this process can be very confusing because there are so many different paths to follow. Thus when the txiv xaiv chants, the deceased will be able to hear and follow his voice and take the correct journey home.

After bringing the deceased person back to their birthplace, the dead will speak to the txiv xaiv. The txiv xaiv receives words that the deceased were not able to say to their loved ones while they were still alive and so use the txiv xaiv as a medium. During this time, all of the family members sit around the txiv xaiv while he tells them the words from their deceased loved one. Mixed in these words are both negative and positive words, so the family members must listen carefully and take the good but throw away the bad. These may be blessings or curses.

The family members are required to nyiav, to mourn for the deceased. Even if no tears develop, they must make the sounds of crying, for this shows respect for the deceased. At the end of the three-day long funeral, the deceased person is buried and all of the decorations made of paper money are burned so that the deceased person will go to a new place with the resources necessary for a comfortable life.

  1. Cha, Ya Po, An introduction to Hmong culture (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2010), 101.