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Party for the dead

No 3, Vol.10 , September - October 2015


The dead body is wrapped in many folds of fine linen, fixed by a wooden frame

The Hmong people believe that death is not necessarily a sad event. There is neither hell nor paradise, but only an ‘embarking point’ for them to go to heaven to join the spirits of their ancestors. Adding to daily activities, Hmong funerals bond the community together. The ceremonies and rituals in Hmong funerals have deep roots in their understanding of the relationships between the dead and the living and the behavioural codes in families and in the community before, during and after the funerals.

Hmong funerals take place outdoors, on a level clearing. Everybody in the whole village puts aside all other matters to come and help the family of the deceased

These photos were taken at a Hmong funeral on Ma Pi Leng peak, Meo Vac District, Ha Giang Province, April, 2011.n
*This photo series won the runner-up prize in the Vietnam
Heritage Photo Awards 2012

The hosts kill a cow and a goat to treat the villagers.


Dead person feeding ritual: The dead person’s family prepares a small 20 cm high wooden vessel, a wooden spoon, three small bowls for wine, and a pot of rice wine. All is arranged neatly on a bench near the head of the coffin, but a bit lower. Before the feast, the shaman puts rice, meat and wine in these utensils and invites the deceased to eat first. This ritual shows respect and gratefulness to the deceased for having work hard to provide for the family and community, and also to pray him/her to bless the living


During a funeral, the Hmong love to invite passers by to join the feast to ‘share the joy’. Their motive is that the hosts are grieving about the dead so much that they don’t feel like eating and drinking. The guests would help them to dilute their pain with a conversation


Like the Viet, the Hmong also burn votive (paper) money and gold for the deceased to pay the way to the ancestors and the origin place; Neatly dressing the dead


The Hmong hope that good care will help the deceased to have a good life in the other world

Blow pipes are a spiritual instrument in the funerals. The Hmong believe their music can guide the dead to the ancestral embrace. Each ritual has its own tune which relates about the origins of the people, about human life, and about the grief of losing a family member

Text and photos by Pham Thuan Thu
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