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Upon Meeting the Ancestors: The Hmong Funeral Ritual in Asia and Australia

Author(s): Catherine Falk

Journal: Hmong Studies Journal
ISSN 1091-1774

Volume: 1;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 1;
Date: 1996;
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Keywords: Hmong Studies | Hmong Music | Hmong Culture | Hmong Funerals

This paper will describe how the text affects its own tellingat a specific moment in the death rites of the Hmong people,drawing chronologically on seven accounts dating from the1890s to 1992 and ranging geographically from southern Chinato Thailand, Laos and Australia. To the Hmong --traditionally a migratory people -- the long song of death isthe most important ritual text. It is transmitted orally anddoes not exist in written form. Since oral literature isverbal and auditory by its very nature it is supposedly freeto change with each telling and each teller. The factors ofboth a long history of dispersal by migration and an oraltradition could indicate, superficially, that substantialchange would occur in the oral literature of the Hmong overtime and place. In this paper, the evidence of translationsof the death song shows, however, a remarkable stability inthese texts and from this it will be concluded that the veryessence of Hmongness - of Hmong history, ethnicity and worldview - is invested in the stability of the texts of the deathnarrative, which is in essence a reflexive metacommentary onHmong society. Finally, some of the indicators for change inthe funeral ritual of the Hmong following their diaspora tothe West will be discussed.

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