The Hmong tribes are among the oldest tribes in Vietnam. At present, there are still about one million Hmong people that live in Vietnam. You’ll usually find them in the northern mountainous region of the country, such as in Sapa. If you are thinking of trekking in Sa Pa, you might be interested to visit the Hmong villages along the way and discover more about the Hmong tribes. But before you do so, take time to learn about the history of these tribes, their culture, and some other interesting details about them.
On the Move
The Hmong tribes are always on the move. It’s believed that they first settled along China’s Yellow River. They survived by means of cultivation and farming and rotated different crops, such as barley, wheat, rice, and corn. After a few decades of living in the area, the tribe moved their home to another location to start a new life there over again. Such mobility comes with advantages for them although it has also made them easy an easy target for the ruling authorities.
Moving Out of the Yellow River
Around the late 18th century, when the population of Han Chinese increased, the Hmong tribe was forced to move southward and into the mountains close to the border with Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Those who never left were punished, shamed, subjugated and killed by China’s Qing Dynasty.
Even though the Hmong tribe does not have any political structure, the tribe is often in open conflict with the Chinese ruling authorities during the early times. This has lead to the community’s widespread persecution and marginalization.
Impact of Vietnamese Independence
When communism spread all throughout the region, the Hmong community was forced to choose a side. This has resulted in some groups migrating to new areas, such as in the neighboring countries of Thailand and Laos. Most of the Hmong people in Vietnam have sided with the Viet Minh, a group of nationalists who have successfully driven the French colonialists out of the country.
There are also Christian communities among the Hmong tribe. These groups of Hmong people were forced to head to the south since they have chosen to align with the French colonialists. Unfortunately, these groups of Hmong people are still being discriminated at this present age.
Around the end of the 20th century, there was not enough land for the Hmong community to cultivate due to the type of agriculture that they have adapted. Because of this, the local government created programs that forced the Hmong tribe to change the nature of their communities. So instead of continuously moving from one area to another, they have decided to apply permanent cultivation by relying on a single plot of land. The villages that you will see in Sapa during your trek are a result of this new lifestyle that the Hmong tribe has embraced.
Different Hmong Groups
Historians have found it difficult to trace down the Hmong people’s lineage. Yet, there still remains a rich diversity of the communities that are still evident today. The easiest way to distinguish them from the rest is the type of clothing that they wear. There are groups that were striped white, black, green, and Leng. Each group also has its own traditions and customs that you can witness if you happen to visit their village during a festival or wedding celebration. Their traditional clothing is made of dried hemp, although some of them are now adopting the Western way of dressing.
The Hmong people are very patriarchal and each village has a leader who is tasked to take care of all issues concerning the community. They are animalistic who worship their ancestor’s spirits and some other spirits, including kitchen and door spirits. Each house has its own altar, which they use for worship and praying to their ancestors.
Tourism and Hmong Villages
Now that Vietnam is becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia, the Hmong people have actually shifted their means of living from cultivation to tourism. In the markets of Sa Pa, Ha Giang, and Lao Cai, you’ll notice a wide array of colorful handicraft, including local Hmong garments and jewelry. These products are being marketed to foreign travelers who might be interested in bringing home some souvenirs.
There are also local home stays that give curious tourists an opportunity to live in a traditional Hmong house and observe a local Hmong family’s way of living. As more and more tourists visit the Hmong communities in Vietnam, the tourism industry in the community continues to thrive.
The best way to discover and learn more about Vietnam’s Hmong community is to go trekking in the mountainous town of Sa Pa, which includes a visit to the local Hmong villages. In fact, the majority of the locals in Sa Pa belong to the Hmong ethnic minority.