Monday, July 16, 2012

H'mong laugh at death, realize it is but one part in the scheme of things

H'mong laugh at death, realize it is but one part in the scheme of things 
Last Updated: Monday, July 09, 2012 04:10:00

Chang Bla Tong stands next to the body of his uncle in Da Den, an ethnic H’Mong village in Vietnam. For the H'mong, death is a natural event that just means the deceased is free of earthly bondage
Da Den Village in northern Vietnam's mountainous Yen Bai Province. Vang Quang Trung stands next to a human-like shape placed on a bamboo structure in front of his yard, holding a liquor bottle and pouring into large bowls and offering visitors.
“You arrived just in time,” the young H’Mong ethnic man says.
"These are joyful days for my family. This is my uncle’s wine. You should drink a bowl to share his happiness.”
The human-like shape is actually the body of his uncle Vang Xu Rua, who died three days earlier. It is dressed in traditional clothes and the face is painted shiny grey.
Trung says his family is happy because of his death and are celebrating it.
A bucket of cooked rice and a bottle of liquor are placed near the body. Visitors place a few morsels of rice in the mouth.
“It is a way to make his soul full when going to meet God,” Trung explains.
Relatives offer liquor to visitors to “share their happiness” because his soul was free of its earthly bondage.
When a villager dies, the body is cleaned and new clothes pulled on. Relatives of the dead make offerings like rice and pig, while neighbors and friends bring liquor, incense, and rice.
There is a series of rituals like making offerings, communicating with the soul of the dead, and slaughtering a buffalo.
Buffalo meat is cooked to offer to gods, bad spirits, and feasting relatives and visitors during the event that often lasts three days.
A The Thao Van Hoa (sports and culture) correspondent who witnessed and wrote about Rua’s funeral said he could not understand why people were happy during the funeral, which is normally a sad experience in most cultures.
“How did he die? How did he treat other people? Did Rua contract a serious illness that cost the family much money?” he wondered.
The village head Chang Bla Tong rejected his speculation: “Rua was a good man. He loved his wife, children, and other villagers. Every one loved him. He died of a stroke and it did not cost much money.”
He said for the H’Mong death is not the end, and one is with God if he or she was a good person.
“If you love Rua, you have to be happy during his funeral. You should laugh as much as possible. We laugh for him.”
Bizarrely, local authorities criticize their funeral rituals as backward and want them to be changed.
“I will be really sad if we have to change the tradition. I am not well educated but it shows a cultural diversity. Moreover, it is weird to end a ritual that has existed for thousands of year.”
During Rua’s funeral, the young villagers played khen, a wind instrument with bamboo tubes, and danced around his body.
“A H’Mong funeral is a happy event.
"Rua’s death was a normal event, just like getting married and giving birth, and life goes on.”
Tong looked at the side of Khau Pa Hill where the body was to be buried.
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