History and Culture

The origin of the Hmong may be traced back to Central Siberia. They migrated to Northern China then further south to the fertile lands of the Yellow River. War drove them onward to Hunan and Hupeh provinces where they established a separate kingdom spanning from the fourth to the tenth century A.D. After the Manchu dynasty succeeded in destroying the Hmong realm, the Hmong fled to the mountainous regions of Guizhou, Szechwan and Yunan provinces. Continued persecution led some further south. During the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of Hmong crossed into Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. After World War II, the French had a strong presence in South East Asia and were followed by the U.S. in the Vietnam conflict. The Hmong supported both foreign powers. In Laos they were the cast of guerrilla fighters hired by the CIA in the secret war against Laotian communists. In 1975 communists gained control of Laos and the U.S. pulled out. The Hmong had no choice but to surrender or flee. Most chose to escape to Thailand, crossing the Mekong river to live in refugee camps. After the U.S. government officially acknowledged American presence in Laos and the aid of the Hmong soldiers, the Hmong began to immigrate to the U.S. and other countries including France, Australia and Canada.


In Laos, the Hmong practiced slash and burn farming. After choosing an area, they would clear away brush, pile it and use it to burn all the trees and plant life. The ash was spread throughout the field as fertilizer. Corn, fruit and vegetables were planted in April and harvested in August. Opium, the Hmong’s only cash crop, was then planted and harvested in January.
Many Hmong continue to earn their livelihood off of agriculture in the U.S. In Central Wisconsin where ginseng became a profitable product, many Hmong can be seen working in fields covered by black tarps with straw covering the precious roots. Few Hmong own land; they often work as hired hands on American farms.



Back to Top