Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Someone Dies

I am in China right now, the Hmong homeland, looking for answers. It’s true that “everywhere the Hmong reside they refer to China as a homeland. In funerals, for instance, when a Hmong ritualist anywhere in the world guides the soul of a deceased person back to a place where it can be at rest, the ultimate destination is a mythologized China” (Schein, 2004). 

In the Hmong culture when someone dies there is a Song called Qhuab Ke, (Showing the Way) performed by playing a qeej (bamboo instrument) that is the first ritual that opens the funeral ceremony. The ritualist opens by asking whether the dead person really dies or is only faking death.  If he or she is truly dead, then the person is informed that his or her body is to be washed and dressed in mortuary costumes, and the soul will be guided back to all the places he or she has lived to show them gratitude before joining the ancestors in the After World.  Prior to making this journey, however, the Qhuab Ke chanter informs the dead person about the beginning of the world, the getting of seeds for crops and why people die.  The “Showing the Way” chant says that a pair of female and male super-beings, Nkauj Ntsuab (Gao Njua) and Sis Nab (She Na) were sent from the Nether World to fashion the world, to make the mountains and plains, the rivers and lakes; and to populate it with people without specifying who they were.  In the “Showing the Way” funeral chant, it is said that the sacrificial animals for the dead are given to the soul of a dead person for use either as food or assets to pay debts incurred while alive on Earth.  Should he or she want to replenish this stable of animals, the need will be made known through a sickness among the close living descendants who will then have to carry out an “ox ceremony” (ua nyuj dab) involving the killing of a cow.  Apart from incense, rice alcohol, ghost-paper-money and these sacrificial cattle, no other economic needs are mentioned in Hmong rituals (Lee, 2007). China is the “Homeland” for the Hmong people, which is why I am here.

Lee, Gary Yia. “Diaspora and the Predicament of Origins: Interrogating Hmong Postcolonial History and Identity.” Hmong Studies Journal, Volume 8, 2007. 25 Oct. 2011. Web. < >
Schein, Louisa. “Hmong/Miao Transnationality: Identity beyond Culture”, in Jean Michaud, Christian Culas, Nick Tapp and Gary Lee, Hmong/Miao of Asia (Chiangmai: Silkworm Books, 2004).

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