Picture of Qeej Boy at Pu Chi Fa
Chiang Mai Thailand –
Chiang Mai University Students
We arrived in one of the most well known cities in Thailand, Chiang Mai. It’s vibrant and full of tourists from all over the world. Before we me up with College students from Chiang Mai University, I got phone call from Matthew Stewart and Song who are community organizers from Lacrosse, WI and were in Thailand for their own Hmong International project. Matthew and Song are the lead organizers of “Widening the Circle,” an annual Hmong and Native American Conference at UW Lacrosse. They just happened to have arrived that day right off the plane and wanted to check out our workshop at Chiang Mai University. We met up with Hmong students who were all kind enough to make time and attend. They have a Hmong organization at the school called Hmong CMU. We showed the Travel in Spirals documentary and got feedback. We also did a workshop where we had them listen to Hmong Hip Hop songs from Tsis K, Duce Khan, Pagnia Xiong and watch the “Hmoob Yuav Tsuv Hlub Hmoob” video. The students were a little hesitant first but we had incredible discussions on world wide Hmong unity, the struggles of Hmong in the Mountains, how they felt about Hmong American musicians/artists and how people recognize cultural identity as influential Hmong people in other countries. There were amazing leaders in that student group. They spoke about a project where the student group Hmong CMU would go into Moutain villages and pass out toys to little children.
Here is a list of Hmong songs that I have been listening to in Thailand and spreading to the people:
1. Proto J – Tseg Neeg
2. RARE – Tsa Taub Hau Siab
3. Duce Khan, Tsis K, Logo – Tshaib Plab
4. Hmoob Yuav Tsuv Hlub Hmoob – Organized by the Kong and Shu Project
5. Mai Yia Vwj – Muab Kuv Ib Sib Neeg
We got connected to a good friend Kaub Hawj who was featured in the Travel in Spirals film presenting about Paj Huam. He is one of 3 Hmong employees at IMPECT (Inter Mountain Peoples Education and Culture in Thailand Association).
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this organization had a Hmong Executive Director Ntsuab Vwj (Joua Vue) that seemed to be very passionate about her work uplifting Hill Tribe people in Thailand. This organization preserves culture and also advocates for the rights of many indigenous groups in Thailand. They are trying to create a center space for Hmong culture classes, arts and youth. They want to partner with Hmong American Non-Profit Organizations and build towards world-wide unity and support for preservation of Hmong culture and identity.
For more about IMPECT:
The Inter Mountain Peoples Education and Culture in Thailand Association (IMPECT), which coordinates the “Highland People Task Force”, a local advocacy network, has been working for more than 15 years to increase the empowerment of ethnic leaders and networks in promoting indigenous and highland ethnic peoples by both cultural and development aspects.
We visited Doi Pui, The Hmong village that has been transformed into a tourist attraction in Chiang Mai. This used to be a real Hmong village and it still is like Hmong families still live there but now has the aspect of Hmong culture for sale and spectacle. The Hill tribes of Thailand have become a popular for tourists to visit. There are many things that people can learn about Hmong culture there too. There is a museum about Hmong culture and history. There were examples of Hmong houses. Most of the original houses have been turned into stores, markets to sell cultural items and other souvenir type stuff. We were guided by a good friend and master’s student at Chiang Mai U, Yia Lee and we checked out the Hmong House example they had… he stated that its looks just like the house he grew up in. The Hmong people at this village are making a living but I overheard that the children of this village are disconnected with the genuine Hmong village life and struggle also. The most shocking experience for me there was that I felt that a few of the people that worked there pronounced Hmong words very oddly. I asked Yia why those Hmong people spoke that way and he responded those people were not Hmong. They are either Thai or other Hill tribal people that have picked up the language by being around Hmong people for long periods of time. Wow they got me.
We visited a Hmong Elder named Lis Txais in Lampun which is an hour away from Chiang Mai. We documented him playing and speaking about the Hmong Flute “Lub Raj” and gave me a book of a writing system for the Hmong language. He had Hmong symbols of this writing system painted on his house. He also stated that he did not feel any poetry or lyrics in the Hmong language that does not meet the requirements of the rhyme structure in Paj Huam should NOT be called Paj Huam. For example we have been calling Rap songs written in the Hmong language Paj Huam Meskas (American Paj Huam Poetry) because it was the closest thing we could reference in Hmong culture to Rap music, Lis Txais says stop that haha. He just says we can call it Ntsiab Lub which can translate to meaningful words or words of importance but we should never call it Paj Huam. I believe Lis Txias is a purist at heart and wants to keep traditional art forms such as Paj Huam they way he know it to be. I think about if we keep Paj Huam for example in its purest form, does it leave room for growth/innovation of the art form? How can it relate or connect to future generations especially since many traditional Hmong arts are in danger of being discontinued.
Here is an example of a Paj Huam poem that me and my cousin Pha Vue wrote together. Keep in mind that we are beginners at writing Paj Huam poems.
This is a part of a Paj Huam poem set in a 7-3, 8-3 rhyme pattern. The 7th word of the first line rhymes with the 3rd word of the second line (qhub and ub). The 8th word of the second line rhymes with the 3rd word of the third line (tseg and ceg) and the pattern would continue 7-3, 8-3 throughout the whole poem.
Kuv nrias txog Hmoob txoj kev qhub
Ua taub ub, peb-cov-laus tso tseg
Txhob sib ceg, peb pab tiv taiv
Yuav Tsuv Saiv Suav peb-hmoob kev caiv
Kuv pom txog Hmoob muaj zog kawg,
Peb Tsis tawg txuas-ntxiv yam tom ntej,
Qhia ua ntej rau nej paub txog,
Peb lub zog tsis-yog tas* li no
I woke up to songs from The H Project in Thailand because I gave my cousin Pao Vue a copy of the CD back in 2008. He still listens to these songs til this day. It brought back inspirational memories.
Description of The H Project:
THIS IS ART FOR SOCIAL CHANGE is what you ll read on
the cover of The H Project CD. The H Project is a compilation
CD that includes a variety of musical genres that include rock,
hip hop, r&b, folk, spoken word, poetry and so much more by
artists from around the country who have written songs and
poems to raise awareness about the current human right vio-
lations and possible acts of genocide of the Hmong people in
the jungles of Laos in 2005.
Zos Qhuav vs Hoi Kue (Hib Khwj)
The differences between the Hmong Village Hib Khwj that my Aunt Joua’s family used to be in compared to Zos Qhuav where she currently lives is size, height, energy and temperature just to start off with. Aunt Joua says she moved to Zos Qhuav to have more farming area space and just chill out more in a quieter village. Hib Khwj is known to be one of the largest occupied Hmong villages near Chiang Rai/Pu Chi Fa areas of Northern Thailand. It is known to have many children now that they had to build a second school in the village. Zos Qhuav is way higher up the mountain in areas where people did not live 20 years ago. Because Zos Qhuav is so high up it is actually chilly… even when most of Thailand especially flatland areas are hot. I had to wear my winter jacket I wore on the flight from Minnesota to sleep every night. Hib Khwj can get cool at night but it gets hot there. There are only two stores in Zos Qhuav that sell convenience items compared to multiple stores in Hib Khwj. The population is so small in Zos Qhuav that the children there have to attend schools in nearby villages such as Hib Khwj. It’s nice to be around the energetic active environment of Hib Khwj but Zos Qhuav was a great place to focus, relax and be creative.