Community, Cultural, Lifestyles

Hmong’s new lives in Caribbean

A friend told me about this interesting article, she has never knew about Hmong people living in the Caribbean, I’ve neither.  My Hmong co-worker lives down the street from my work place, I got to know her family better when I went to take pictures of their rice paddy last year.  Then my blogger’s friend, Mozemoua, she always has something interesting to share.  Here is an article of Hmong’s new lives in Caribbean, written by Bethan Jinkinson, BBC’s East Asia Today, in French Guiana

Asia’s Hmong ethnic minority has been scattered by hardship and warfare for centuries, but one of its most unusual destinations was French Guiana in the Caribbean.

“The Hmong people have never had a country before,” says Txong Fong Moua, one of the founding members of the Hmong village of Cacao, inland from the capital Cayenne.

Txong Fong Moua, holding a picture of himself and his younger brother.
Txong Fong Moua, holding a picture of himself and his younger brother.

“All we ever needed was a forest, somewhere to produce vegetables. We built everything from scratch, all our houses, our farms, everything, until it became our new home.”

The French Guiana link goes back to the 1970s, after Hmong refugees were left behind when their US allies pulled out of South East Asia. Many fled to Thailand, and some were later resettled overseas by France and the US.

The first group of 45 Hmong arrived in Cayenne in 1977. They were transferred to a new plot of land in the Amazonian jungle, which they called Cacao. Since then, nearly 2,000 Hmong have settled in French Guiana.

Cacao village
Cacao village

Txong Fong Moua arrived with 13 members of his family.

Thanks to Hmong traditions of marrying young and having large families, he now has 84 living descendants.

He lives with his wife, his daughter and son-in-law, and their two children, in a traditional Laos-style wooden house.

Tou Fong Vang's wife looks after her one-year-old grandson Mochi
Tou Fong Vang's wife looks after her one-year-old grandson Mochi

Like most of Cacao’s houses, it is sparsely furnished but also contains many hi-tech gadgets, like satellite dishes and a widescreen television – evidence that the Hmong in French Guiana have done extremely well for themselves.

Although they make up only 1% of the population of, they now control 70% of the country’s agriculture.

“Before, in Laos, we grew food only for our own families to eat,” said Joseph Toh, one of Txong Fong Moua’s son-in-laws.

“But when we came here, we needed money to live, and to make enough to sell. So we moved from simple farming to more advanced farming technology,” he said, demonstrating an irrigation system he had set up on his land.

Using these techniques, as well as pesticides and herbicides, the Hmong have managed to carve out pristine farms from the rainforest.

Demonstrations

The Hmong sell a wide variety of fruit and vegetables at the weekly produce market in the capital, Cayenne, earning around $500-600 dollars per trip.

Rambutans
Francois Xiong holding Rambutans
Joseph Toh is one of Cacao’s many farmers
Joseph Toh is one of Cacao’s many farmers

Although the fruits of their labour are well received by the local population – their tasty rambutans sell out quickly – people were initially wary of the Hmong.

Demonstrations were organised in the capital Cayenne prior to their arrival, as the locals were worried that the Hmong would steal their jobs.

But perhaps because the Hmong have largely kept themselves to themselves, the locals seem to have accepted their presence in the country.

Child in traditional Hmong dress
Child in traditional Hmong dress

This self-sufficiency and self-reliance has left them somewhat isolated from the wider community, and this can cause problems.

“Hmong men are very shy,” says Vietnamese born Ly Ngoc Lan, who teaches creative arts at Cacao elementary school.

“They rarely marry outside the small community, and as a result many people are marrying people who are basically relatives, cousins or even aunts and uncles,” she said.

Another problem that the community has is that the work ethic is so strong, education often takes second place.

“Because the parents work so hard on their farms, they are more focussed on that than their children’s education. As a result, not many of them go on to higher education.”

Traditions

Perhaps because many of them had to leave everything behind when they fled Laos after the Americans pulled out of the war, the Hmong are very focussed on earning money.

The Hmong have been running all their lives”, says Ly Dao Ly, Cacao’s village baker. “Maybe they feel that even though they are citizens here, they might have to run again, and so money is their security.”

Ly Dao Ly
Ly Dao Ly

Madame Ly is a strong believer in keeping Hmong traditions alive in Cacao. In between baking croissants and baguettes for the village, a trade she learnt in France, she teaches traditional Hmong dancing to the children.

Wendy, 8, is one of Ly Dao Ly’s daughters
Wendy, 8, is one of Ly Dao Ly’s daughters

“I am worried that if people work too hard, they won’t have enough time to teach their children our ancient traditions,” she said.

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However, some Hmong traditions appear to be alive and well in Cacao.

Animals such as buffaloes are still regularly sacrificed for big celebrations like weddings, where traditional dress is worn by many guests.

Hmong handicrafts and embroidery sell well at the weekly Sunday market which attracts people from around the country.

Embroidered cushion covers depicting the Hmong exodus from Laos across the Mekong river into Thailand provide an example of how the Hmong’s recent history is being preserved by the women of Cacao.

Religious beliefs, though, have shifted. Although traditionally animist, Christian missionaries have been active within the Hmong communities in French Guiana for years, and as a result, church attendance is extremely high.

Even the young people of the village attend two or even three times a week.

Although some of the elder people in the village said they would like to go back to Laos to visit, most of the younger generation seem to have less desire to find out where they have come from.

They are more interested in travelling to America and France, both of which have sizeable Hmong communities.

“Laos is not stable,” said one Hmong farmer in his twenties.

“If you are Hmong there, they can cut your head off. Here we have laws, we have liberty, democracy, we are free.”

15 thoughts on “Hmong’s new lives in Caribbean”

  1. wow.. that is an unusual place to know that a Hmong family lives. I’m happy for them; they now get to live in a tropical place.

    1. lady0fdarkness, I think it’d be a place that I’d enjoy living. I’m just happy to hear that they’re doing so well, I think it’s very impressive that “they make up only 1% of the population of, they now control 70% of the country’s agriculture.”

  2. Yes I was surprise to read “they make up only 1% of the population of, they now control 70% of the country’s agriculture.” I am glad they are doing well, possibly better than those living near the borders of Burma or Thailand.

    I am also surprise to see how close they are to Brazil. I’ve heard Brazil has some great variety of tropical fruits. Especially the acai berries and many more they are bringing to market.

    Good article 🙂

  3. Wow Ginger, it’s really great that they have a whole area for themselves. It’s one of those places you’d least expect to see a community of Hmong living.

    It’ll be interesting to compare future generations of Hmong living elsewhere with those living in Cacao.

    1. Hi Will, I grew up in the US, I often wondered what it would feel like living amongst our own people, and here they are in a strange land, but managed to create their own place, I think it’s kind of nice.

      I’ve not looked into the Hmong community in the US, but in our area, most work a normal job and also do farming on the side, like the one down the street from my work place, they plant rice every year, it’s really a sight to see it close up.

  4. Wow, that’s very much new to me. I know we Hmong are scattered all over the world, but the Caribbean, wow, thats soemthing new. Hey, maybe I should find a Hmong husband there so it’ll feel as if I am always on vacation. ahaha just kidding! Thanks for the artical!!

    1. mozemoua, many of the Hmong in our area came from CA, I guess just like yourself that came from Stockton, CA. The Caribbean sounds nice to visit, but I’m not sure about living there, I wonder if the grass seems greener on the other side. 🙂

    1. Hi Soy, thanks for your visit and comment. I think most Hmong and Lao people like to keep our traditions where ever we are, which I think it’s great.

  5. Amazing, Hmong people living in the Caribbean. As foreign as that may sound, it makes a lot more sense than being here in Minnesota, USA. The reason being that our people are use to the warm weather, year round. Which allows us to farm non-stop. Besides, snow is new to us. So culturally, it doesn’t make sense for a warm weather people to be living in a freez’n place. But I guess we’ve learn to adapt over the years. But it’s still mind boggling to know that Hmong people live on the islands though. = )

    1. Hi Yang, the weather was one less things that they had to battle, but I’m sure they had a hard time adjusting to their new environment at the beginning, as much as we had a hard time here in the US, but it’s nice to hear about their success. And thanks for your comment and stopping by. 🙂

  6. Thank you for sharing your life and story with us. Loved it.
    I’m so happy to see that we are all over the place, and no matter where we are we make it our home. My husband and I live on a farm in Missouri (USA) and it is a pleasure to read about your farm.

    1. May Xee Xiong, thanks for your visit and comment. I’m also glad to have the opportunity to post about the Hmong community in Cacao, and nice to hear about your family also.

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