Flora, Fauna, and Birds of Northern Vietnam



Hmong of Northern Vietnam

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One of the largest ethnic minority groups in Vietnam, the Hmong or Meo were a nomadic group who emigrated from China to Vietnam in the early 19th century, and settled in the northern highlands. Known for their independent spirit – hmong means free in their language – the group has remained fiercely loyal to its indigenous customs, resisting assimilation with the Viet majority. Today, the Hmong have largely abandoned slash-and-burn agricul ture, and lead a settled, often impoverished life, farm ing and raising livestock. These people are catego rized under five main subgroups – Flower, Black, Green, Red, and White – based on the dress of the women.

Hmong villages, known as giao, are small communities featuring wooden huts with thatched roofs. Unlike other hill communities, their homes are not built on stilts. They are usually constructed accord ing to ancient customs, stipulating that houses must be built on land blessed by ancestors.

The ritualistic sacrifice of buffalos is common during festivals. The Hmong are traditionally animists, who believe that the meat will appease the region’s guardian spirits. A number  of special musical instru- ments are used for such  ceremonies, including large drums, water buffalo horns, and the queej, a kind of mouth harp.

The Black Hmong are distinguished by their black-dyed cloth ing. The men dress in baggy trousers, short tunics, and skullcaps, while women wear trou sers or skirts and leggings, often piling their hair into an open hat. Most Black Hmong villages are found around Sapa.

Dry rice cultivation, which is based on traditional slash-and-burn agriculture, has been adopted by the Hmong on the uplands. Maize, corn, and rye are other staples, while hemp and cotton are grown for cloth. In some remote areas, poppies are illegally harvested for opium.

Hmong textile stalls are a staple of the weekly mar kets of the northern highlands. The Hmong have been relatively successful in selling their handicrafts to visitors. Their appliqué work and embroidered fabrics are now very popular.

Indigo is used by the Black and Green Hmong to dye trousers, skirts, and sashes, which are hand-wo ven out of hemp. Batik is often utilized to further embellish these richly colored outfits.

Colorful Flower Hmong Admired for their extravagant and elaborate  clothing, the Flower Hmong are the largest sub- division of the Hmong in the country. The vividly  patterned cos tumes worn by the women include brightly colored head scarves, and full pleated skirts, as well as flamboy ant silver or tin jewelry. The women are also successful in busi ness, and often sell clothes and acces sories featuring their exquisite embroidery, batik, and appliqué work.

Red Hmong women are known for their giant, bouffant hairdos. They pains takingly col lect all the hair they shed naturally, and then weave it around a headpiece, along with their living tresses. Occasionally, the hair of dead relatives is also woven in.

Heavy silver jewelry is worn by Hmong women both as adorn ment and as a mark of status. The intri cately crafted earrings, necklaces, and bracelets often feature the snake motif – a talisman against evil forces. Men and children also wear jewelry, as it is believed to bind the body and soul together.

Flower Hmong flock to Bac Ha Market once a week to sell fresh produce, honey, bamboo, and herbs. They also stock up on necessities such as match es, cloth, needles, and kitchenware.

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