We recently sold the above storycloth and the person who bought it
asked if we could describe what was being depicted in the storycloth so
we decided to define areas and activities within the cloth we thought
needed explanation, numbered them and below we provide an explanation of
what's happening within each numbered area. Of course we encourage you to check out the variety of Hmong storycloths we carry on our Yahoo store site.
Area 2: Collecting wood. Here a Hmong man is collecting wood, though often it is children and especially teenage girls who are given the responsibility to go out and collect wood. Sometimes it means collecting dead wood on the ground, while often it means chopping down small trees or splitting small logs. Wood is collected during the dry season, from about January through early May, or whenever the rainy season begins. Even where there is electricity, almost all cooking is done over wood fires (food tastes better that’s cooked over wood fires they say).
Areas 3, 5, 16: For the Hmong their mountain rice fields and gardens are often one to three hours journey by foot and so they spend a lot of time on trails and will carry back harvested vegetables, rice panicles, etc. in bamboo packs on their backs and sometimes on horses. In area 5 the Hmong are obviously traveling to their gardens and mountain rice fields and in Area 3 and Area 16 they are coming back to their villages with their baskets/packs full.
Area 4: Planting rice. The Hmong and most rural Lao living in mountainous areas (80% of Laos is mountainous) plant rice similarly to what one sees on this story cloth. Traditionally the men will have a pole where they poke holes into the ground and the women will drop in a handful of seeds. Sometimes there will be a large group like this, sometimes just a couple by themselves. On some of our storycloths you can see the fallen trees they’ve cut down and after burning the cleared land (cut and burn/swidden agriculture) the bigger trees and stumps are just left in place and planted around.
Area 6: I don’t
think the Lao or Hmong could live without hot peppers. Most rural Hmong and Lao
rarely eat meat and hot pepper provides a spiciness to otherwise “bland” rice
when it is made into some kind of jeaow (a mortared mixture of hot pepper and
salt at its simplest and then often with added ingredients like cilantro, fish
sauce, tomatoes, mushrooms, etc ). Hot peppers are grown in these remote
gardens and if they plant enough of them then they might be able to sell the
extra for a little extra cash. There are lots of different hot pepper varieties
grown in Laos, but most are similar to what we know in the states as the Thai
Area 7: Chicken or Pigeon House. Chickens are raised most
often for use in ceremonies and as a source of meat to be offered to special
guests. And occasionally they're butchered for an average family meal. The
Hmong also like to raise pigeons, but I'm less sure about how they're used. My
wife says we’ve eaten pigeon meat in her village (she’s Lao).
Area 8: Raised wooden
storage unit to keep rice or corn dry and safe. Sometimes the legs are made
from cluster bomb canisters in regions where the bombing was heavy during the
Area 9: Hmong
houses are built on the ground with dirt flooring. Mien houses are similar,
unlike Lao and Lao Theung houses which are built on posts, with enough space
underneath the houses for women to weave, or to keep their animals at night.
Area 10: Here a
Hmong man and woman are grinding corn on a grindstone to make a gruel they can
feed the pigs or they will use it to cook for a meal. Most Hmong villages will
have at least one grind stone like this and I’ve also seen them grinding soy
beans and have some great photos taken in a remote Hmong village in Luang
Prabang Province I’ll post on our blog sometime.
Area 11 and Area 14 are connected: In Area 14 they are using a rice pounder to
separate the rice hulls from the grains of rice. The woman in this storycloth
keeps turning over all the rice until all the hulls are separated. They then
take the rice and rice hulls that are now mixed together and the woman in Area
11 is sifting the rice so that the hulls fall on the ground and then the rice
is left in the tray. They also are able to make the broken rice grains gather
toward the front of the tray where they are removed to a bowl and later fed to the
chickens as the boy is doing next to the woman.
Area 12: Feeding pigs: Here the Hmong woman is probably
pouring the mixture they’ve cooked with the tubers they’ve grown in their
gardens and dug out of the ground when they’re up to 18 inches long and three
or four inches wide, plus they will add rice hulls. Most Hmong and Lao families
have pigs which they will use for sacrificing for ceremonies and parties and to
sell when they need money.
Area 13: Here the Hmong woman has dug up tubers
that she is cutting up to be put in a pot where they’ll cook the tubers in the
afternoon over a fire and then when it cools they’ll add rice hulls and feed to
Area 15: Pineapples: Pineapples are raised best in mountainous areas of Laos, and although they can be picked anytime, the main harvest season begins in the rainy season around June. Pineapples grown in Southeast Asia are incredibly delicious and sweet, with none of the sourness Americans are used to with pineapples shipped by air from Hawaii.
Area 17: Mother
taking care of child in field dwelling. Because rice farms and gardens are
often far away from villages the Hmong will build small structures that provide
shade and where they can rest and eat while taking a break from the demanding
work out in the field. Often time older siblings will take care of any babies,
but perhaps here they’re out weeding, or helping plant or harvest the rice…
Area 18: Here a
man and woman are hoeing weeds in a mountain rice farm and/or garden. Once the
rainy season begins the weeds grow as fast as the rice plants and the Hmong
have to be vigilant in keeping the weeds at bay so the rice can grow tall. A
mountain rice field will be weeded usually two times during the growing cycle,
sometimes three times.
Area 19: Feeding
horses. Horses don’t seem to be as common as they used to, when roads were
non-existent or mud tracks at best and the easiest way to transport goods was
by horseback. Here the horses are
being fed stems from rice that has already been harvested or some kind of grass.
Area 20: Here a
man and woman are in their garden picking long green beans that you can see
that are grown next to a pole where they can twine around the pole as they grow
just like our green bean plants do here in the states. The Hmong and Lao like
to pound them in a mortar with fish sauce, hot peppers, garlic, and lime juice
and then a variety of other ingredients can be added depending on the season,
availability and taste preferences, like small tomatoes or carrots. And if they
let the beans stay on the plant they’ll turn yellow and then they will take the
seeds and steam them (like rice is steamed) and eat them. They are considered
very delicious, sort of like eating peanuts.
Area 21: In
area 21 the rice is being harvested with a sickle (everything is done by hand)
and then is laid out in small groups in the field to dry. After a few days the
rice is then thrashed in a wide variety of ways, sometimes the panicles are hit
against board set up in the rice field where the grains come off the panicles and
gather in a pile on the ground (probably some kind of burlap-type fabric they
make by weaving bamboo strips together is laid down first). The rice grains are
then put in a basket and when there is a moderate breeze the men will climb a
ladder and pour out the rice and the empty hulls will float away and the solid
grains of rice encased in the hull will fall straight to the ground. These are
then gathered to be hulled as seen in Area 14 using the rice pounder.
Area 22: In this
area the woman is picking eggplant. There are many kinds of eggplants that are
grown in Laos. They have purple and green eggplants, some long and narrow like
cucumbers and some that look like our traditional eggplants as seen in this storycloth.
Actually most eggplants grown in Laos are the size of small and medium-sized
tomatoes. They can be eaten raw or cooked. They are really good when they are
made into a jaeow as explained in Area 6 with hot peppers.
Area 23: Cooking over a fire. For the Hmong and most Lao, cooking is always done over a wood fire. Sometimes they’ll use charcoal that’s made by villagers, and if they had electricity and the money to buy a small stove, they could cook on a stove, but most Hmong and Lao will tell you that food tastes very different when cooked on a stove and they prefer food cooked on a fire.
Area 24: Here
they are picking corn and cucumbers. In Laos this is what they call the “farm
cucumber.” It’s grown and picked when it’s big and people like this one because
it has a lot of flesh and the skin is not too thick. They love to eat it raw
and like to dip the slices in salt and it’s also used in the kind of salad
where the ingredients are mortared similar to the papaya salad once can get
easily in Thai restaurants.
Area 26: Here the man is cutting a bunch of bananas. The bananas are grown in people’s gardens and one tree will yield one bunch of bananas and then you cut it down and many small banana trees will sprout from the base of the big banana tree. The Hmong and Lao prize the banana tree just not for it’s fruit, but the leaves are highly valued for cooking and wrapping food and using in ceremonies.
Area 27: Here the woman is stacking the harvested rice panicles in a rounded pile to dry before the next process of threshing the rice as seen in Area 21.
If anyone has anything to add please leave a comment. We're always ready to learn more!