Hmong hill tribe – History and Culture

Origins of the Hmong

It is not entirely clear where the Hmong hill tribe originally came from. Most probably their ancestors lived in Tibet and China. The Hmong have a very strong urge to remain independent. Attempts from Chinese authorities to subjugate them and force them to integrate has led to a real Hmong diaspora. By the end of the 19th century the first Hmong villages were established in Northern Thailand. Many Hmong fled from Laos to Thailand and were resettled in the United States after 1975.

Chiang Mai, 1974. Hmong hill tribe
Hmong hill tribe in Chiang Mai, 1974. Source unknown.

Where do they live?

Laos, Vietnam and China have very sizable Hmong hill tribe populations. Many Hmong live in the United States with large Hmong populations in Minnesota, California and Wisconsin.

Hmong Subgroups

The Hmong hill tribe has lots of subgroups. These vary in the different countries. The sub groups in Thailand are the Black Hmong, White Hmong and Striped Hmong. The Black Hmong are located in Nan, Chiang Rai, Tak, Phrae, Phetchabun and Phitsanulok. They are distinguished by their costume. Their women wear their hair in a bun and wear dark blue and white pleated knee length skirts with embroidered borders. The men wear a black or dark blue jacket without collar and have wide sleeves and cuffs. Both women and men wear a lot of jewelry made of silver.
The Striped Hmong can be found in the west of Nan. They wear Black trousers with a dark jacket with embroidered collars and green, white and blue stripes on their long sleeves. The White Hmong are to be found in Nan and Chiang Rai. Their women wear long loose dark blue trousers with plain long sleeved jackets with embroidered collar flaps and a turban. On festive occasions they wear a white skirt with stripes of embroidery down the front [ thus their name.

Hmong trekking. Hmong hilltribe women at Baan Mae Sa Mai.
Hmong hilltribe at Baan Mae Sa Mai. Hmong trekking.

Hmong Language

The language of the Hmong hill tribe people belongs to the Austro-Thai linguistic family of the Miao-Yao sub group.

Hello(where are you going?)  

Goodbye(come back again) 

Yes  

No 

Thank you 

How much 

Good

Very good 

What is your name?

Rice

Ka yo mung two?

Teha Sang Loo

Uhh

Yong

Wud dhow

Bee echo

Yung

Yung dow dow (as in down)

Bay who djam?

Ma (as in mark)

Mr.Sowme Green Trails
Hmong headman Ban Mae Sa Mai, Chiang Mai.

One

Two 

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Twenty

One hundred

Ee

Oar

Pay

Blau

Tjur

Tjoa

Tchian

Yi

Tjiaw

Khao

Nen ngau

Ee pwa

Hmong Religion

The Hmong hill tribe people in Thailand believe in a mixture of animism and shamanism with ancestor worship. Villages have spirit shrines to protect from evil. There are village and house spirits. The Hmong bury their dead and believe each person has three souls, and that upon death, one goes to heaven, one goes to be reincarnated and the other remains in the grave with the corpse.

Hmong guide Doi Suthep trekking

Culture and lifestyle

The Black Hmong are located in Nan, Chiang Rai, Tak, Phrae, northern Phetchabun and Phitsanulok. They are distinguished by their costume. Their women wear their hair in a bun and wear dark blue and white pleated knee length skirts with embroidered borders. The men wear a black or dark blue jacket without collar and have wide sleeves and cuffs. Both women and men wear alot of jewelry made of silver. If you have Comcast cable deals you may have seen documentaries on the Hmong sub groups and have seen their traditional outfits. The Striped Hmong can be found in the west of Nan. They wear Black trousers with a dark jacket with embroidered collars and green, white and blue stripes on their long sleeves.
The White Hmong are to be found in Nan and Chiang Rai. Their women wear long loose dark blue trousers with plain long sleeved jackets with embroidered collar flaps and a turban. On festive occasions they wear a white skirt with stripes of embroidery down the front.

Traditional rice growing and gardens in the hills is being replaced by emphasis on other cash crops — cabbage, potatoes, tomatoes and strawberries — which were introduced as a substitute for opium growing. Hmong hill tribe are involved in several royal projects such as the Doi Inthanon Royal Project and the Huay Luek Development Centre near Chiang Dao which focus on crop substitution.

Important festivals

The most important festival of the Hmong hill tribe is the Hmong New Year. This will be celebrated in January.