The Hill Tribe Village of Ga Lae
As I mentioned in my recent post, my town (Tambon) in northern Thailand is home to 10,000 people of which 3000 belong to the Hmong hill tribe. These people live in three small villages tucked away in the mountains surrounding the valley. They are some of the most interesting people I’ve met.
According to Wikipedia and some other Internet sources (mostly unreliable):
- The Hmong are a diligent and independent people who are believed to have been the original inhabitants of the Yellow River valley in ancient China. The expansion of the neighboring Chinese from the north, (sorry Vivi) caused a disruption in the Hmong culture and forced them to migrate southwards to escape oppression and persecution. The futile efforts to establish themselves as an independent people apart from the expanding Chinese led to their mass exodus into Southeast Asia. From here, they made their way into what became Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand.
- The Hmong are now the second-largest hill tribe group and are sometimes referred to as Meo. Among hill tribes, the Hmong are becoming well integrated into Thai society and are considered among the most successful. The current population of Hmong in Thailand is estimated to be roughly 151,080.
- They are largely animistic and best known for their intricate embroidery. Known to be fiercely independent and with nomadic tendencies, they sided with communist rebels in Thailand in the 1970s, while the Hmong of Laos sided with the US during the Vietnam and Laos wars – both seeking self-determination.
- The Hmong live in houses that sit right on the ground, not on stilts as do some other hill tribes. For a long time the Hmong supported themselves by the cultivation of opium poppy. Most of the Hmong people have turned from opium growing, and are now seeking to market their exquisite needlework in order to supplement their income.
- Hmong women traditionally make clothing for their families from cotton or hemp. Their clothing is richly decorated with magnificent embroidery and silver jewelry. Blue Hmong women wear beautiful pleated skirts with bands of red, blue and white intricately embroidered. Jackets are of black satin, with wide orange and yellow embroidered cuffs and lapels. White Hmong women wear black baggy trousers with a long wide blue cummerbund. Their jackets are simple, with blue cuffs.
- Hmong men make crossbows, musical instruments, and other items of wood, bamboo and rattan. Many of the men are also skilled in blacksmithing and gunsmithing.
- The Hmong are strict animists, whose shamans use dramatic methods to contact the spirits. They are much devoted to the sky spirit they believe has created their own ancient way of life. Please note however that in my villages there have been quite a few converts to Christianity.
In late August 2012, my friend Tess McLoud and I were invited to spend the night in the Hill Tribe village of Ga Lae (pronounced Galay). We slept on the floor of a small preschool as the guests of two preschool teachers, Kru Mon and Kru Hai. Here is a slide show with the story of our visit.
Note: To slow down the transition of each slide and read the captions, press the pause button and then press the right arrow to advance one at a time.