Lao Hill Tribes. Let's Discuss.

Location:  The Mekong River, Laos, May 4th - 5th

This is a fascinating and also very sad topic in South East Asia.   This post will reflect that.  No sweating stories here.

In Laos, the hill tribes are divided primarily into three large groups that pertain to where on “the hill” – low, medium or high – one lives.  These tribes have been subject to a lot of grave human rights issues over the years.   

Note, this is my understanding of what has occurred, specifically to the Hmong people.  If I'm wrong, please tell me and, apologies.  This is what I've learned and been told during my time in Laos.

It is called "The Secret War" or the Lao Civil War, one where the CIA recruited Lao Hmong people to help fight the Northern Vietnamese during the Vietnam War.  Two years after the US withdrawal from South Vietnam, Laos was overthrown by communist troops and the Hmong were targets of retaliation, eventually accused of helping the CIA by the Lao government.  The Hmong people were declared enemies and in the 70s, a quiet genocide reportedly began to take place.  It was then that the Hmong began to trek across the Mekong to Thailand and this marked a mass exodus of the Hmong from Laos.   

Years post war, the mistreatment of the government did not subside, according to reports.  The Hmong people to this day continue to look to leave Laos.  The US accepted a large number of refugees as recently as 2003.  Then, in 2009 the New York Times reported that Thailand was going to forcibly “return” all of the Hmong people to Laos.  It has been an issue the United Nations and US have been dealing with and it speaks to Laos’ incredible history of conflict, unfortunate racism and civil war.

NY Times Article, Thailand Begins Repatriation of Hmong to Laos, 2009:  http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/28/world/asia/28hmong.html?_r=0

NBC News, Thousands Still Risk Torture For Helping US in Vietnam War, 2014:  http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/thousands-still-risk-torture-helping-u-s-vietnam-war-n181436

PBS Summary of Events:  http://www.pbs.org/splithorn/story1.html

NBC News Summary Regarding Hmong Vet Rights:  http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/hmong-vietnam-war-vets-fight-full-military-burials-n246051

I intend to read more about this because like the Cambodian genocide in the 70s – this is not the stuff that one likely recalls or even had the opportunity to read in their history books.  It is deeply unbelievable yet unbelievably true that these war crimes and racist acts continue to happen to this day. 

_________________________    (this is a visual breather)  __________________________

So, what does a Hill Tribe Village look like?  Well, not all villages are Hmong and not all live in fear and reflect what the links above illustrate.  So, in that case, what is actually happening there?

The ones that I went to were notable in that they had well water and electricity.   Obviously, many do not. 

The children were happy (and shy), the adults worked as farmers and in one town, a woman with a baby strapped to her back made whiskey from rice. 

Whiskey Making

   So, everyone kept telling me to come try the rice whiskey at the distillery.  I looked.  I looked and then we stopped.  Someone handed me that glass with blue something on it.  THIS IS THE DISTILLERY.  Welcome.  And good luck to you.  The whiskey runs from the pot, heated by coals, into that bottle that has a banana leaf as a funnel.  The overflow goes into that pink pitcher.  Take that, liver.  Take that.

So, everyone kept telling me to come try the rice whiskey at the distillery.  I looked.  I looked and then we stopped.  Someone handed me that glass with blue something on it.  THIS IS THE DISTILLERY.  Welcome.  And good luck to you.  The whiskey runs from the pot, heated by coals, into that bottle that has a banana leaf as a funnel.  The overflow goes into that pink pitcher.  Take that, liver.  Take that.

Where.  Is.  Waldo.

There were general stores, rice fileds that only produce one crop a year, grumpy looking cows and sturdy looking water buffalo.   Some villages have more skills than farming.  Such was the case with one, where women were accomplished weavers. 

This woman said that her home had three looms in it.  The shiny multicolored scarf in the middle took her over one week to make.  Those cost more.  Her grandmother, mother and her weave in their home to sell in town.

This man had a large basket out front, that he uses to carry crops or fish in.  He holds the basket (flat on one side that rests at his back, round on the other) by a strap that goes around his forehead -- see the tan line?  If interested, he would have sold the basket to us.

It was eye opening, sometimes saddening and the most excellent reminder of all that we have and how we think we “need” things but really, we don’t.   

How much we have.  Our wants might be many, but in large, they are small.

More pictures on the images tab.