The Mong Oral Tradition

Cultural Memory in the Absence of Written Language

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About the Book

In 1975, after years of struggle, Communists seized control of the government of Laos. Members of the Mong culture who had helped the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in their quest to halt the spread of Communism were forced to move to America as political refugees. The Mong, with their strong culture of oral traditions and beliefs, were plunged into a multicultural society where the written word was prevalent. As a result, their oral customs are now being slowly eroded and replaced with a written tradition. Desperate to hold on to their cultural identity and continue the traditions of their ancestors, the Mong still struggle with the dilemma this change in literary perception has caused.

Compiled from numerous interviews, this volume explores the lives of 13 Mong elders. With emphasis on their unique oral tradition and cultural practices, the book discusses Mong rituals, tribal customs, religious beliefs and educational experiences. The main focus of the work, however, is the lifestyle the elders maintained while living in the mountains of Laos. In their own words, they describe their childhood, communities, religious rituals and cultural traditions as well as the ongoing struggle of adjustment to their new homeland. The work also delves into the Mong perceptions of industrialization and the generational conflict that immersion into a literate society has caused. The author himself is a member of the Mong culture and brings a personal perspective to preserving the oral traditions of this unique ethnicity. The work is also indexed.

About the Author(s)

Yer J. Thao is an assistant education professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. He has authored several journal articles and lives in Beaverton, Oregon.

Bibliographic Details

Yer J. Thao

Foreword by Dr. Lordes Arguelles

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 210
Bibliographic Info: 13 photos, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2007
pISBN: 978-0-7864-2749-9
eISBN: 978-0-7864-8199-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      v
Foreword by Lourdes Arguelles      xi
Preface      1

1. Oral Culture and Multicultural Education      5
Living the Vision of Oral Culture in Modern Society      6
Oral Culture and Written Culture Together in One Society      8
Summary      10

2. The Mong Oral Tradition and Cultural Practices      11
Theories of Mong Origin      11
Mong Oral Cultural Tradition      14
Mong Oral Culture Practices      20
Farming      24
Parenting      27
Rituals and Customary Traditional Values      28
Summary      30

3. Mong Society and Sociocultural Settings      31
The Mong Kinship System      31
Cultural Identity      37
The Environment      42
Social Gatherings      49
Summary      51

4. Oral Tradition as a Source of Knowledge      52
Traditional Stories      52
Songs      57
Sacred Chanting Songs      61
Funeral and Wedding Songs      63
Soul Calling Songs      69
Ritualistic Secret Language Chanting Songs      70
Summary      72

5. American Education and the Transformation of the Mong Community      73
The Loss of the Oral Tradition Custom’s Values      73
Language and Culture Loss      82
Religious Conflict      90
Summary      98

6. The Stories of Mong Elders      99
Elder Boua Tong Yang      100
Elder Lee Xiong      105
Elder Nhia Cha Yang      113
Elder Jer Thao      118
Elder Xai Dang Moua      123
Elder Phoua Her      128
Elder Chong Yer Thao      132
Elder Mai Vang      137
Elder Cha Shoua Hang      143
Elder Chai Xiong      149
Elder Tong Yao Her      155
Elder Ying Yang      159
Elder Xao Cheng Lee      165

7. Keeping Oral Culture Alive Through the Mong Elders      171
Mong Oral Tradition and Culture Elements      178
Understanding the Interconnectedness of Mong Oral Culture      181
Summary      184

Afterword by Marianne Pennekamp      185
Bibliography      187
Index      193

Book Reviews & Awards

  • Choice Outstanding Academic Title
  • “13 exquisite oral histories with Hmoug seniors…among the best first-person accounts of Hmong life in Laos from the 1920s to the 1960s…required reading for all audiences interested in this group…the most accurate translations of spoken Hmong into English text that have ever been published. Highly recommended. All levels/libraries”—Choice
  • “informed by solid scholarship and his own lived history as a Mong in the United States, Yer J. Thao has produced an outstanding treatise—not only about the history and culture of a people, but the power and dignity of the oral tradition. It is a book that should be read by all educators seeking to understand the cultural dilemmas of traditional indigenous populations, in the midst of an unrelenting culture of written literacy.”—Antonio Darder, Educational Policy Studies, University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign
  • “Dr. Thao has crafted a thorough and thoughtful description and analysis of oral cultures. His credibility on this topic comes through his impressive amount of research and citation of valid sources of information. This book is a ‘must-read’ for anyone interested in the dynamic interaction of language, culture, and education in today’s multicultural society.”—Dr. Armeda Reitzel, President, Humboldt County Historical Society