Thursday, April 19, 2012

A chance to get out of the big smoke; and into the world of Hmong culture

Bel poses with Hmong students and fellow volunteers

Mr Nii is a teacher from Xaydeth College and he lives a 45 minute tuktuk ride from Luang Prabang in a small village.  Mr Nii had converted the downstairs of his house to a small classroom where he gave English lessons to local children from his village. He loved to have volunteers visit his village as an opportunity for his students to practice their English with foreigners as his village did not receive any tourists. 

The first time I went out to the village there were 8 students that were waiting to talk to myself and two other volunteers and the time passed very quickly. On my second visit I asked Mr Nii if we could spend half of our one hour visit having a tour of the village given by the students. I had been told that the village was quite a traditional Hmong village and with very limited knowledge of Hmong culture I was very keen to learn. As we started our tour I learnt that the main religion of Hmong people is Animist of which I’d never heard. Mr Nii gave us a quick overview of their beliefs and then took us to a Shaman’s house. The Shaman’s house is very traditional with just two doors and no windows. One door is the welcome door which we used and then the other door was the spiritual door only used for special occasions. We were then led through the village towards the market area. On the way we stopped to watch a local woman cooking the national dish, sticky rice. Once we were at the markets the kids delighted in trying to teach us what all the different fruit, vegetable, meat and fish were on offer. There were many things I’d never seen before on sale in a market one such thing being ant eggs which I’d heard are a great delicacy. All too quickly the hour was finished and we quickly posed for photos with the students on their request and said our goodbyes.
The next day I eagerly sat in an internet cafĂ© to learn more about Hmong people, Animist and Shamans. I found from talking to students and locals that even the Theravada Buddhism practiced in Luang Prabang had some Animist influence. Laos has such an amazing and intriguing history. 

By Bel Ross (4 week volunteer in Laos)