The Meo Of Laos

Transmission date: July 1972


Photo by Thien Kim Nguyen Trinh on Unsplash

As a result of fighting with the Chinese over the last 3000 years, the Meo, or Hmong (as they call themselves), once aborigines in north and central China, have been forced to migrate southwards into southern and south-eastern Asia. Traditionally the Hmong had been hill farmers, practising a ‘slash-and-burn’ economy growing maize and rice for subsistence and the opium poppy as a cash crop. In 1975 Laos became communist. This involved major restructuring of Meo society.

In 1972, 250,000 Hmong lived in Laos, where the DW film was made. The area had seen continuous fighting for 30 years. The mountainous region in the north was the battleground between the America-backed Royal Lao forces, made up primarily of Hmong soldiers, and the communist Pathet Lao with their north Vietnamese allies. By 1972 the Pathet Lao controlled most of the highlands causing those Hmong who opposed them to flee even further south. More than 100,000 Hmong refugees had crowded into camps in the last unoccupied highland zones. The main preoccupation was the danger of conscription into the army. From the age of 14 boys were expected to fight.

The music reflects this sorrow. The kreng, an ‘L’-shaped mouth organ with 6 pipes, is generally used in funeral music. The couple singing in the second excerpt are mourning the death of a relative. Their distress is clearly evident.

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