The Hmong people are a community native to East and Southeast Asia. They hold a grand celebration on their New Year, which will be observed between November 29 and December 1 in 2019. In addition to celebrating a new beginning, the festival is also dedicated to thanking the community’s ancestors and spirits.
The Hmong community’s New Year festival
During the celebration, Hmong people wear their traditional clothes. People gather together with their families and friends, indulging in dance, music, food, bullfights, and so on. Traditionally, the celebrations last for about 10 days. However, this has been shortened in some Hmong communities given the demands of the modern working schedule.
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Today, the Hmong New Year lasts for only 3 days, during which community members eat 10 dishes per day, totaling 30 dishes. Young members of the community give respect to the old and seek blessings from the elders of their clan as well as other clans. The wandering souls of family ancestors are called back to unite with the household. A shaman releases what is believed to be healing spirits to wander the land. The ball-tossing game of “pov pob” is popular during the celebrations.
Boys and girls are separated into two lines facing each other. The tossing between a pair continues until one of them drops the ball, during which time they are supposed to give an ornament or similar item to the other player. To get it back, they must sing a love song to their partner. Tossing the ball to someone of the same clan is strictly prohibited. While Hmong communities in their native lands observe the festival largely in the traditional way, those who have migrated to other parts of the world, like the United States, have made some changes to the celebrations.
“Many of the New Year [celebrations] are now held for only 1 to 3 days. The longest-held New Year here in the United States is in Fresno, CA, which goes on for 7 days. Many Hmong families still hold the traditional ceremony of cleansing bad spirits away… over the years and generations, I have seen the food, traditional Hmong clothing, entertainment, music, and dancing evolve as the generations have evolved,” Kabao Xiong, President of the Hmong Association of Washington, said to Northwest Folklife.
A persecuted community
The Hmong community has been persecuted in their native lands by the ruling governments who give various reasons for doing it. In Vietnam, they have been accused of aiding the United States during the Vietnam War. After the U.S. lost the war, Hmong communities that were identified as having allied with America were severely discriminated against. The same has been the case in Laos.
Hmong people who convert to Christianity are also treated very badly by their governments since they view the religion as foreign and imperial in nature. Extrajudicial killings, imprisonment, torture, etc., have been used on Catholic and Protestant believers. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has documented several instances of religious persecution of the Hmong community.
The United States has allowed thousands of Hmong people to migrate to America to escape persecution. Of the more than 250,000 who went to America, the majority live in the states of California, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Some have also migrated to Canada, with Ontario being a popular destination.