Black H'mong minority
Different groups of Black H’mong live throughout the Sapa valley, with a small group residing in Nam Cang Village.
The Black H’mong immigrated from China approximately 300 years ago.
The spoken language of Black H’mong belongs to the H’mong – Dao language family. The writing was Romanised in 1961 but is not widely used today.
The Black H’mong women are famous for their fabric, which is made from hemp and dyed a deep indigo blue. Long blouses decorated with batik flowers are worn over short trousers, with long scarves wrapped around their legs. Hair is kept long and worn wrapped around the head and covered by a blue turban. Black H’mong men wear long jackets over shirts and a long waistcoat with an embroidered collar, and a small hat. Today some H’mong people wear Western style clothing.
In H’mong communities, women are respected as equals to men. Husbands and wives tend to have affectionate, loving relationships and carry out many household duties together such as going to the market, working on the field and visiting relatives. In this way, they develop a strong community life together.
A young Black H’mong girl must know how to embroider and work in the field, skills which are valued over beauty. Marriage unions begin at ‘love markets’, where young couples meet and get to know each other, spending time eating and singing together. After a courtship period, a boy may propose and if the girl agrees, she will go to stay in his house, where she will sit in a small room and be visited by the boy’s mother and sisters, who try to persuade her to accept the marriage with offerings of food. The bride has several days to decide whether she accepts the marriage. A dowry must be presented by the boy to the bride’s family of silver coins, pigs, chicken and rice wine for the wedding ceremony. If the boy doesn’t have a dowry to give to the girl’s family, he must live in her house until he is able to marry her.
A gunshot in a Black H’mong village signals to the community that a death has occured. People gather at the deceased’s house, bringing donations for the family of chicken, rice, a small pig or rice wine. The mourners sing and eat until the deceased is wrapped in a mat and carried to a grave by one group, while a coffin, which has been kept in a cave somewhere near the grave, is carried by another. As per custom, both groups must run quickly to the grave to ensure the deceased forgets the way home. Families unable to supervise the funeral rituals can wait for a few years before organising a special ceremony known as ma kho. Villagers are invited to a place by the grave for a funeral celebration of singing and dancing.
A H’mong house has places reserved for worship, with special areas for ancestors, for the house spirit, for the kitchen spirit, even the door spirit. People must abide by rituals symbolising whether entrance to a H’mong house or village is permitted, for example, a green tree branch on the front door indicates that entrance is forbidden.
The Black H’mong are highly skilled at making agricultural tools, wooden furniture, musical instruments and jewellery and are famous for their handicraft and embroidery. Such items are primarily made to serve their own needs, however other minorities in the area buy their produce because of its high quality. Since the advent of tourism in Sapa, many H’mong women have been making decorated cloth to sell on the town’s main streets.
Black H’mong celebrate a range of festivals during the year. Community plays an integral role in the way of life of H’mong people and time for community activities is prioritised. One of the most important festivals is New Year, occuring about one month earlier than Vietnamese Tet and celebrated for an entire month. During the celebrations, traditional games are played, boys play flutes and girls play an instrument made from two leaves.