Roughly 95% of the H’mong live in Asia, there are about 1,2 millions H’mong living in Vietnam, mostly settling in the northern mountains such as Sapa. Black H’mong is one of several sub-groups, including Green H’mong and Flower H’mong, and they began a gradual southward migration from China in the 18th century.
According to anthropologists, H’mong spoken language belongs to the H’mong – Dao language family. Though the H’mong writing was Romanized in 1961, it is not widely used today. Most adult H’mong still speak their own language, while younger people can speak both H’mong and Vietnamese.
Unlike the Vietnamese who worship ancestors and gods at home, pagoda or temple. H’mong people only reserved worship places inside their living house, there is a place for ancestors, for the house spirit, for the kitchen spirit and even the door spirit. There are different taboos which forbid people to walk into the H’mong house. For example, a green tree branch on the front door indicates that entrance is forbidden.
Black H’mong women in northern Vietnam are most famous for making cloth from hemp, and dying it a deep indigo blue. They wear long blouses decorated with batik flowers over short trousers, and wrap long scarves around their legs. They also wrap their long hair around their head, and wear a blue turban. Traditional costume for H’mong men include long jackets with shirts and a long waist coat embroidered at the collar, and a small black hat.
It is very important for a H’mong girl to know the embroidery and farming works, which is even more important than her beauty. Boys and girls are free to get to know each other before getting married, they usually go to the love market to look for their lovers, to eat and sing songs together. The boy can propose marriage at the market, and if the girl agrees, she will follow him to his home.
For their wedding ceremony, the boy must give the girl’s family pigs, chickens, rice wine and silver coins. If he doesn’t have a dowry to give, he can live at her home and work until he is able to marry her. After the wedding, the H’mong bride still has some time to decide if she accept the marriage – even after living with her husband for a few days, she can choose to break their agreement.
H’mong women are respected at home and their community, husbands and wives share their tasks equally, like they both going to the market and working on the field. Like other minorities in the mountains, the H’mong people have many different festivals during the year. One of the most important festivals is the New Year, which they celebrate for an entire month. It is about one month earlier than Vietnamese’s Tet. During New Year festival, H’mong boys play flutes and girls play an instrument made from two leaves.
When there is a death in the family, the deceased’s children fire a gun to let everyone in the area know. Villagers then come to deceased’s house with anything they have such as chicken, rice, a small pig or rice wine to help the family. The funeral is time for everybody sings and eats 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. Both groups have to run very fast to meet at the grave to make the deceased forget the way home.
H’mong people can be seen at Cat Cat and Lao Chai Villages, both villages are on popular hiking routes from Sapa town.
Cat Cat Village
Cat Cat, a Black H’mong village, is half hour walk from Sapa town. Take a leisure walk downhill from the town for great photo opportunities of local H’mong weaving their clothes, picturesque waterfall and scenic mountain backdrops.
Lao Chai Village
Lao Chai is another Black H’mong village, located in the descending valley southwest of Sapa - which is also called Muong Hoa Valley. The village can be easily accessed by different routes including driving, but the most scenic way is the trek starting from Y Linh Ho outside of the Sapa town. The trekking to Muong Hoa valley boasts not only friendly local H’mong people, but also great views of green mountains and fascinating rice terraces covering hills’ loops.