Photograph by Mason Florence
Until recently there was no written Hmong language, but
a strong oral tradition of folk songs, riddles and proverbs
flourishes. Perhaps the Hmong are best known, however, for
their handicrafts, particularly weaving hemp and cotton
cloth which is then coloured with indigo dyes. To achieve
the right intensity of blue, the cloth may be dyed up to
thirty times, and then beaten until the surface takes on a
lustrous, almost metallic sheen.
Many Hmong people still wear traditional indigo apparel:
men wear baggy, tubular trousers with a loose shirt, a long
waistcoat of burnished cloth and silver or bronze necklaces;
female attire is generally a knee-length skirt, an apron,
leggings and a waistcoat. Hmong women often adorn their
shirt sleeves with embroidered bands, while the skirts of
some groups may also be highly decorated. Hmong women
typically wear large chunky silver necklaces and clusters of
several bracelets and earrings.
Photograph by Mark Kirby
Since the end of the eighteenth century groups of Miao
people have been fleeing southern China, heading for Laos,
Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.
Their spoken tongue resembles Mandarin Chinese, and the
people fall into various sub-classifications, including the
Black, White, Red, Green and Flower Hmong, each bearing
subtle variations on traditional dress, especially among the
women, and marked differences in dialect and social customs.
The Hmong reside at high altitudes and cultivate dry
rice, vegetables and fruit, in addition to medicinal plants
(including opium), and also raise pigs, cows, chickens and
horses. Hmong houses are built flat on the ground, rather
than raised on stilts.
Photograph by Emma Miller