Thursday, August 22, 2013 Now Offline

While I continue to learn about Hmong music in my spare time, the focus of my work has shifted to other areas. For many years I maintained the website,, as an outlet for my research and as a way to provide access to my research materials.

All of those materials are available via other outlets on the internet now, and since I did not have any plans to update the website, I have let the domain name expire. You are welcome to contact me with any questions through my personal website:

I am grateful to the many people who have contributed to my research and taught me so much and I am happy to continue sharing my work with the Internet.

Hmong Music Research Resources:

Friday, February 17, 2012

La musique des Hmong: Now available online

Eric Mareschal. La musique des Hmong. Paris: Musée Guimet, 1976.

Mareschal's La Musique des Hmong has long been cited as one of the first and most comprehensive sources on Hmong music Laos. Unfortunately, it also also been almost impossible to get. I try every couple of years to get a copy to no avail. There are only a few copies in international libraries and no one is willing to lend it out. I recently found out that Eric Mareschal has uploaded a .pdf of the work to the website Scribd.

For someone like me who is interested in Hmong music and history, this is a pretty monumental event. I've only skimmed the contents, but the amount of detail the book contains is incredible. Mareschal documents secular and ritual songs (including musical transcriptions), qeej performances, and other types of instrumental music. Both Hmong Daer and Mong Leng music is included. The texts of these performances are highly valuable in their own right, but the musical transcriptions hold the potential for an interesting comparison with contemporary practices.

I don't think the full impact of the availability of this text will be realized for quite some time. It will take a while for people to realize it is available and fact that it is in French adds another barrier. Still, I am excited to spend some time with this text to see what it holds.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Zomia and the Hmong

I've read passing references to "Zomia," but had not known about the source of its current popularity until reading interesting review in the Chronicle of Higher Education: "The Battle Over Zomia," by Ruth Hammond. It discusses James C. Scott's book, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (Yale University Press, 2009). 

According to the article, his thesis is that the ethnic groups in the highlands of Southeast Asia are  "barbarians by design, using their culture, farming practices, egalitarian political structures, prophet-led rebellions, and even their lack of writing systems to put distance between themselves and the states that wished to engulf them."

Since I haven't read the book, I can't comment in detail, but there are a few interesting points worth drawing out. (Also, the Hmong feature prominently in the book and two leaders in Hmong Studies comment in the review.)

One point that stands out is the discussion of ethnicity. Based on the review, it sounds like Scott is looking critically at ethnic identity in the context of politics. One critic in the piece suggests that this reduces the meaning of ethnicity for people within the group. The article continues:

Scott counters that what he has done in dissecting the hill peoples' identities "has been done for almost every other ethnic group, in terms of deconstructing their history and showing that ethnicity is a kind of positioning and a performance.
"It's usually a mistake," he says, "to imagine that there is a great deal of genetic and genealogical continuity."
His book, he insists, does nothing to diminish those groups' claims to autonomy, land rights, and recognition: "I think that every identity is historically constructed, and, in fact, you can argue that that is in a sense even more noble and worthy of recognition: the self-creation of an ethnic group."
The idea of the "self-creation of an ethnic group" puts me in mind of Siu-Woo Cheung's article "“Miao Identity in Western Guizhou: Indigenism and the Politics of Appropriation in Southwest China during the Republican Period" from Hmong/Miao in Asia, in which he discusses how the modern Miao nationality was borne out of political necessity. The creation of the Hmong and Miao ethnicities continues today and can be seen in media (movies, music, etc.), scholarship, and of course through communication on the Internet. 
On a personal level, our ethnicity can provide a sense of rootedness--an inherited link to the past. Yet, as Scott points out, the genetic thread is a weak one and examples of non-Hmong people becoming Hmong by joining the community (through marriage or otherwise) can be found throughout history, as well as today. Culture is mutable, as is language. When viewed in this light, the frailty of ethnicity as a concept is apparent. 
Jean Michaud is quoted in the article as is Mai Na Lee, and both scholars provide several examples from Hmong history that counter Scott's claim about the political origins of ethnicity. This includes the idea that hilltribe people gave up written language to preserve political autonomy. (As Dr. Lee documents, written language has been something of an obsession for many Hmong people throughout history--certainly not something that was given up willingly.) At the same time, it sounds like most of his work was done in Myanmar, so examples from Hmong culture are not the best to prove his points. Certainly, the Hmong of Southeast Asia have always maintained an independent identity, even when integrating themselves into state power systems.
The article is though-provoking and I look forward to tracking down some leads to learn more about the idea of Zomia and how it relates to Hmong studies.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Kathy Mouacheupao moves on

I was fortunate to meet Kathy at the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent while doing research for my masters thesis. The work she and others have done at CHAT has been truly remarkable--promoting Hmong artists and getting children involved in expressing themselves through music, dance, painting, theater, etc. Kathy has been a big help to me on many occasions, so I was happy to see that she was moving on to some exciting new opportunities after leaving the organization.

Minnesota Voices (7/28/2011)

One large project she’ll be embarking on for the next four years is a fellowship through the Bush Foundation. For the fellowship she’ll be doing a lot of travelling, both within the United States and abroad, trying to connect with different Hmong artists around the world. She’s hoping to document Hmong history, with an emphasis on contemporary Hmong artists, as opposed to traditional artists. “I’m looking around the idea of biculturalism,” she said.
She’ll be documenting the history of the Hmong experience through art, she says. Most of the artists that she’s familiar with now, who are coming up with tools to express their experience, are Hmong-American — artists such as Kaolee Thao and Katie Ka Vang — but she hopes to connect with Hmong artists internationally as well. While she hasn’t entirely mapped out the scope of her project, she hopes to travel to Laos, Thailand, China, Australia, France, and California and Seattle in the United States, visiting Hmong New Year celebrations in particular. Eventually, she hopes to create a curriculum that could be used in schools such as St. Paul Public Schools, which recently adopted Hmong history into their curriculum. She also plans to create an exhibit of her findings.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cooking from the Heart: Reviews and Recipes

I just received my copy of Sheng Yang and Sami Scripter's Hmong cookbook, Cooking from the Heart, and it doesn't disappoint. I haven't read all of it yet, but I've enjoyed skipping around, looking at the recipes for some of my favorite foods (all of which make my mouth water). Besides being a joy to read (and a pratical cookbook), there is enough context to make it helpful resource for learning about Hmong cultural practices, both traditional and modern. The role of food in rituals is described as well as food practices associated with health and illness. It's also a book about the friendship between Yang and Scripter and the creativity of the individual cooks they worked with. Even the book itself is beautifully designed and well-organized.

There have been a number of positive reivews around the web, but one of the best is from The Heavy Table, a Twin Cities-based website. The review is broken up into two pages. In A Day in the Kitchen of a Hmong Family, the reviewer tags along with a Hmong family as they shop for the day and prepare a big dinner. Among other stops, they visit the International Hmong Market on Como, a sprawling, labyrinthine collection of stalls containing everything from karaoke to qeej (not to mention an amazing variety of food). While the book isn't the main focus here, the review does conclude with a recipe for papaya salad and another recipe based on the cooking of the Hmong family in the review. Of great interest to everyone, a video is included that demonstrates how to de-bone a chicken wing so it can be stuffed with eggroll filling and baked. (The one time I got to help out with this time consuming, but worthwhile task, we later deep-fried the wings in a giant vat of oil.)

The review of the book featured on the site is equally rich and detailed. It also includes two more recipes as well as links to other websites
Yang and Scripter were recently interviewed by Lynne Rossetto Kasper of The Splendid Table and their segment will be airing sometime in July. It's clear the book has already been a success and more great things are in store for the authors.

Pictured: My personal speciality, fawm kauv. By the way, blogger Mozemoua has several nice posts on Hmong cooking (which include much nicer pictures than the above).

Monday, February 02, 2009

More Hmong food - New cookbooks available

Just got the word that Cooking from the Heart: The Hmong Kitchen in America (website), a new Hmong cookbook by Sami Scripter and Sheng Yang is now available for pre-order from Amazon. The book places recipes in the context of folklore and healing practices and sounds very promising.

In the meantime, the Eau Claire County UW Extension has a Hmong cookbook with 15 recipes along with profiles of the contributors. Just $10, including shipping, and the proceeds benefit entrepreneur grants and scholarships in western Wisconsin. (Ordering information, pdf)

See also: Authentic Hmong food

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hmong language and dictionary resources

One of the best Hmong (and Mong) dictionary resources, Jay Xiong's Hmong-English Dictionary Software, is now available for free (although, a $5 donation is suggested). It not only includes the ability to search definitions in both Hmong and English, but also provides sound clips of consonants, vowels, and tones. You can also search the dictionary online at his website and hear sound clips of common words. The print version of the dictionary is also worth the price.

Jay also promotes Tony Vang's Hmong Tutorial that includes a book and software that covers the basics of speaking and writing Hmong. I haven't used it myself, but it sounds like a good place to start for people who want to start learning Hmong language.

It's sad to see that the Saturn School White Hmong Dictionary has been taken offline. Along with the dictionary, it also featured folktales and proverbs--useful information for people interested in Hmong culture. Koua Lee's online Lomation Hmong Text Reader is still available and provides both a sound file of the word and a definition. (Type in the word, or copy and paste some text and click 'Read'. Moving the mouse over the word (after clicking 'Read') causes the definition to pop up.) It's especially handy for getting a quick sense for a sentence since it can pull up definitions for several words at once.

For those interested in a print dictionary, Yuepheng Xiong's recent Hmong-English/English-Hmong Dictionary is probably the best available. You can find it at his book store (ABC Hmong) in both pocket and standard size (although the standard size doesn't appear to be available online at the moment).

I've recently come across a couple of new online Hmong dictionaries, but I won't link them here since it appears that they have scraped their content from other sources without attribution (not to mention, both featured several incorrect definitions). I even contacted the owners of the website to voice my concerns about their potential copyright violations but received no response. You can find my updated collection of Hmong dictionary links here, which includes link to specialized dictionaries for law, health, and religion.