Hmong funeral ceremonies are a time of mourning and celebrating the deceased’s life. Funerals vary and can range from three to twelve days, depending on the individual and other variables. For traditional Hmong families, the funeral process is longer and more complex than the Hmong families who have converted into Christianity.
Traditional Hmong funeral process consists of:
· The sacrificial animal ceremony
· The beating of the Hmong drum
· Playing of the Hmong flute
· The sacred song
· The deceased dressed in traditional Hmong attire
· Burning of incenses and paper money
All are used to help guide the deceased to his/her ancestors in the spirit world. The descendants of the deceased usually prepare the sacrificial animal ceremony, as they provide enough to feasts the guests who come to pay homage towards the decease. As the funeral is taking place, the descendants are called upon to take incense and bow to the deceased. The incense bowing is used to help send the deceased off to the other world and reflect on when the deceased was still alive with them. Descendants hold many responsibilities, as they also are to fold paper money that would later be lit for the deceased. The burning of the paper money is so the deceased would have money to take care of him/herself in the spirit world.
During the ceremonial process, an immediate female family member is alongside guarding the deceased’s casket at all times to ensure that nothing happens. Because there have been stories of people attending funerals to go and take the soul or bodily parts of the deceased, a family member is stationed as a watch guard of guests that go to view the deceased in the open casket.
On the final day before the burial has taken place, the shaman along with an individual who plays the Hmong flute known as the “qeej” will lead the deceased’s spirit out of the funeral home to join his/her ancestors. The shaman tosses two horns against the wall to determine whether or not the deceased will leave for the spirit world, this process must be repeated until the two horns both face up, indicating that the deceased’s spirit is leaving on its journey to the spirit world. The deceased is usually said to be riding a black horse to join his/her relative in the after-life. The truth is that the black horse that the deceased rides to join his/her ancestors is the horse of death that sends the decease, as some describe it, into the pits of hell.
The adopted Christian Hmong funerals are much simpler when compared to the traditional ones. Not only is it simpler, but also the representation of the process sends a different meaning. In a Christian Hmong funeral, the ceremony also takes three days, but does not last the full 24 hours a day and the deceased is dressed in all white or the color of the family’s preference. Each day is broken up into sessions of church services that are dedicated to remembering the deceased. Unlike traditional funerals, the doors are locked up each night as family and guests leave and reopened the following morning. The process is to hope and be wishful that the deceased is led to the gates of heaven rather than down into hell.
The beliefs of the Hmong people have varied among families, causing the customs and traditions to change. Hmong funerals are construed differently, being polar opposites from traditional to Christian adaptation.