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Since the end of the eighteenth century, groups of Miao people have been fleeing southern China, heading for Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam. Miao meant “barbarian” whereas their adopted name, Hmong, means “free people”. In Vietnam the Hmong population now stands at just fewer than eight hundred thousand, living in the high areas of all the Northern provinces down to Nghe An. Poor farming land, geographical isolation are low, while infant mortality is exceptionally high. Hmong farmers grow maize, rice and vegetable on burntover land, irrigated fields and terraced hillsides. Traditionally they also grow poppies, though this is now discouraged by the government. Hmong people raise cattle, buffaloes and horses, and have recently starters and gather forest products, including honey, medicinal herbs, roots and bark, either for their own consumption or to trade at weekly markets. Hmong houses are built flat on the ground, rather than raised on stilts.

Until recently there was no written Hmong language, but strong oral tradition of folk songs, riddles and proverbs. Perhaps the Hmong are best known, however, for their handicrafts, particularly weaving hemp and cotton cloth which is then coloured with indigo dyes. Many Hmong women, and some men, still wear traditional indigo apparel and chunky silver jewelers; though the origin of the names is unknown, there are market differences in dialect and social customs as well as dress and hairstyle, especially among the women.


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