Hmong front

Thailand: Blue Hmong woman

Hmong front
Blue Hmong woman with embroidery

General description Blue Hmong woman in traditional dress kneeling on a board wrapped in black velvet.

Dimensions 25.0 x 18.0 x 20 cm.

Date when acquired 2006

Original Date Unknown

Source Oxfam shop in Formby, England.

Meo Lai made in Thailand by Hilltribe Products Foundation (under the patronage of H.M. the King). Designed by Vanida S. Monkhone and handmade by Youthana.

Hmong back
Back view showing sashes and skirt

Body

Her head is painted plastic with transfers for the facial features. Her body is made of white material over padding with a wire (?) support inside. Her hands are made of pink material.

Her hair consists of black threads piled high in a beehive style. A chain of multicoloured beads is wrapped around the bun.

Clothing

The doll has a black long-sleeved cotton jacket on with red strips of material around the neck and sleeves. Around her waist is a black cotton sash tied at the back. It is embroidered in purple, green, tan, white and black. At the ends of the sash is a long fringe of yellow wool. On top of the black sash are two silk sashes, on in green and one in pink. The pink sash is tied at the back and the green sash at the front. Below her jacket, the doll is wearing a pleated dark blue cotton skirt decorated with 1-cm-wide bands of yellow, purple, green and orange cotton. Between the purple and green bands is a green band 5 cm wide embroidered with panels of cream, orange, black, pink and green stitching. On top of her skirt is an apron made of black cotton with a middle panel decorated with cross-stitches in orange, green, pink and yellow.

Hmong woman head
Close up of head showing beehive hair style and silver jewellery

Accessories

The doll is wearing various pieces of jewellery, typical of the Hmong. She has a dangly silver earring in her right ear with gold on one side. She has two solid silver bracelets on her right arm and three on her left. She has silver chains falling over her bodice with two 1.5-cm-diameter silver brooches holding them in place.  The brooches are engraved with a spiral pattern. Around her neck is a solid silver neck ring.

In her right hand, the woman has a piece of embroidery (5.5 x 10.0 cm), which looks as if she has just completed it. The design is a geometric pattern of green, white and pink cross stitches.

Under her skirt, she is wearing a white coarsely woven cotton petticoat. The woman is bare foot.

Background information

The Hmong 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 caused a disruption in the Hmong culture and forced them to migrate southwards to escape oppression and persecution. Over the centuries, they have waged many wars against the Chinese in which the Hmong suffered heavy casualties as they were outnumbered. They are also supposed to have originated from Siberia, Tibet and Mongolia, too.

A number of Hmong people fought against the communist Pathet Lao during the Laotian Civil War (1953–75). The Hmong people were then singled out for retribution when the Pathet Lao took over the Laotian government in 1975, and tens of thousands fled to Thailand seeking political asylum. Thousands of these refugees have resettled in Western countries since the late 1970s, mostly the United States but also in Australia, France, French Guiana, Canada, and South America. Others have returned to Laos under United Nations-sponsored repatriation programs. Around 8,000 Hmong refugees remain in Thailand. In total, about 80,000 Hmong live nowadays in Thailand. The Hmong are mainly located in the Thai Highlands.

The Hmong in Thailand belong to two distinct groups, the Blue Hmong – distinguished by the knee-length pleated skirt of the women – and the White Hmong, the womenfolk of which wear blue or black trousers. Because of her intricate skirt, my doll is therefore a Blue Hmong woman. The Thai (and the Chinese) call these people “Meo“, a name which the Hmong dislike and consider derogatory. My doll has the label Meo Lai, but I decided to use the Hmong name as being more suitable.

The women of the tribe traditionally make clothing for their families from cotton or hemp. Their clothing is richly decorated with magnificent embroidery and silver jewellery as seen on my doll. Blue Hmong women wear gorgeous pleated skirts with bands of red, blue and white intricately embroidered. My doll’s skirt is amazingly colourful and quite lovely. The traditional jackets are of black satin, with wide orange and yellow embroidered cuffs and lapels. In contrast, this doll has a cotton jacket with a relatively narrow trim.

The Hmong keep a great deal of their wealth in the form of silver jewelry. All Hmong-men, women, and children-wear silver neck rings, at least for special occasions. At the naming ceremony a silver neck ring is given to a Hmong baby to keep the soul in and signify that the baby belongs to the human-world. Silver has a special significance to the Hmong, symbolizing wealth and the essence of the good life. Neck rings, solid or hollow, are worn either singly or in sets of up to six tiers-five being standard. Frequently heavy silver chains with lock-shaped pendants are attached to the neck rings. These ‘locks’ are added during curing ceremonies to keep the soul in the body. At New Year they may wear heavy silver chains with pendants of fish, butterflies, wheels, bells, and miniature grooming tools, and young women may wear a pointed ring on every finger. The amount of silver displayed at the New Year festival in an affluent Hmong village is most impressive. My doll also has a great amount of silver jewellery including the neck ring and chains.

The Hmong have supported themselves over the centuries by the cultivation of opium poppy (living in part of the so-called Golden Triangle), but most of their people are now turning from opium growing and are now seeking to market their exquisite needlework in order to supplement their income. This doll has a traditional piece of embroidery in her right hand, however, looking at the examples of wonderful Hmong embroidery to be found on the internet, this is a very simple version.

Source(s) of information

http://www.chiangmai-chiangrai.com/hilltribes.html; http://www.cpamedia.com/travel/thailand_hill_tribe_trekking/; http://www.visit-chiang-mai-online.com/akha-hill-tribes-northern-thailand.html; http://www.thailine.com/thailand/english/hill-e/lawa-e.htm (all accessed 25 June, 2012); http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hill_tribe_%28Thailand%29 (accessed 3 February and 23 September, 2012); http://maejae.blogspot.de/2009/08/silver-ornaments-of-hmonk.html (accessed 3 October 2012).

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