Elaborate Ceremonies

Hmong funeral ritual ceremonies have remained the same for countless generations.  Within the Hmong culture, funerals are the most elaborate and important of all Hmong ceremonies.

The Hmong’s beliefs center around animals. They believe that after death a person is reincarnated in a different form. The Hmong funeral is seen as a time to mourn, grieve. It is seen as a time of remembrance and coming together. Mourners will talk with one another, visit and even laugh together. In the funeral homes where the visitation is not occurring, mourners may play games, sleep, eat and play music. Relatives watch over the funeral home day and night.

Funeral Customs

The traditional funeral songs and rituals that are performed during the funeral are continually passed down from the master’s to the older generation, again and again. The younger generation does not learn the rituals until they are older. During the service some plays a Queej, a flute-like instrument made of bamboo.  The rituals and funeral songs are performed to help guide their deceased ancestors to the spirit world.

Queej, a flute-like instrument made of bamboo.

The funeral ritual Qhuab Ke means “to teach the way.” During this ritual, a ceremonial song or poem is chanted to guide the deceased on their journey to reincarnation. Then, a chosen family member, usually the deceased’s oldest child, tosses divine sticks called txheej ntawg into the air. All of the divine sticks must land facing up, signifying that the deceased is ready to begin their reincarnation journey.

Hmong funerals last 24 hours a day over the course of three to four entire days and nights. During the funeral ceremony, an immediate family member guards the deceased’s casket from harm, such as evil spirits. It’s also taboo for mourners to show any distress during the funeral ceremony. The ceremony’s focus should be on the rebirth of the soul and new life rather than death. Funerals begin on Friday and ending on a Monday afternoon. The body is embalmed to ensure that services can take place over the weekend. The entire group of mourners make fake gold money boats for the deceased. The boats are made to travel alongside the deceased, with the purpose of providing them with wealth for their spiritual journey.

During the ceremonies, cows and chickens will be sacrificed. The Hmong believe that the sacrificed animals will lead the deceased on their next journey. The mourners have large feasts and the sacrificed animals are prepared and served to them. It is customary and appreciated when others prepare food for the grieving family.

Another significant part of the Hmong funeral customs are the colors of the deceased’s clothing. The family avoids dressing their loved one in colors that are green or red because they believe it will cause the deceased to become ill. Instead, they dress the body in black and white. Special shoes made of cloth are provided for the deceased. A chicken is often placed by the head of the deceased. Each of the funeral rituals are for the purpose of guiding the deceased back to the same family when they are reborn

Sunshine Money

The funeral is an extremely sacred part of the Hmong funeral services. Sometimes many months pass before the family can arrange the funeral. Due to financial and cultural reasons, in the West, many Hmong rituals are modified. For example, instead of flowers, guests may donate “sunshine money” to help the family cover the expenses of the funeral. A funeral benefit like Pamana pays all aspects of a funeral removing the concern of how the expense will be covered.

Christian Hmong Americans

Christian Hmong Americans hold the funeral in the church in lieu of other ritual practices. The mourning process still last for three days. Rich and meaningful traditions exist within the Hmong culture. The few listed here barely scrape the surface beauty and wonder that is the Hmong community.