Happy Hmong New Year!
Hmong New Year celebrations in Luang Prabang and throughout Laos are a time when many different villages come together to celebrate the end of the harvest season and the start of a new year. Here in Luang Prabang, the festivities take place just outside town.
We marked this annual occasion last night with a very special shop talk by Doua, a member of the Dao Hmong ethnic group who shared with us his knowledge on Hmong culture, textiles and the significance of new year celebrations. Thank you Doua for a wonderful presentation! We also heard from OPT staff Emma and Stina about some of the ways traditional Hmong batik have been redesigned and reinterpreted for our new Boutique collection of garments and pillow cases. Read on for more information about Hmong New Year, as inspired by last night’s shop talk.
Hmong ethnic group are thought to have originated from the plains of Tibet and Mongolia, moving southwards through China and arriving in Laos in the early 19th century. In 1995, Hmong people made up 6.9% of the Lao population. There are three ethnic sub groups of Hmong in Laos: Dao (‘white’), Du (‘blue’) and Djua (‘black’ or ‘striped’), all distinguishable by their traditional dress.
Hmong Du and Hmong Djua practice indigo resist batik. Hmong Dao, on the other hand, don’t practice batik, but rather are renowned for their embroidery skills. Until recently, the Hmong dialect had no formal written text, making the visual language of batik and needlepoint very important for passing oral traditions down from one generation to the next.
Nor Phe Chao, the Hmong New Year Festival, is celebrated on the first new moon in a 12-moon cycle. In a western calendar, it usually falls either in December or January. Lasting up to seven days and bringing people together from many villages, new year celebrations are traditionally a time to meet new people. A game called pov pob is played – young girls and boys stand in rows singing and throwing a ball to one another. By the end of the week, playing this game has determined many future couplings.
One of the highlights of New Year celebrations are the ornate skirts Hmong women make to wear during the festivities. Lengths of batik cloth are fashioned into a skirt which also showcases embroidery and applique skills. After embellishment, the skirt length is gathered up and folded like a fan, creating a circular shaped garment. These skirts are worn daily but every woman makes a special skirt to wear for New Year. A skirt can take up to five or six months to make. Skills are passed down from mother to daughter, with a mother taking great pride in her daughter’s work. Inspiration for batik motifs comes from the natural environment: snail shells, animal teeth, ferns and cucumber and pumpkin seeds.