This weekend we had a works outing, the four of us working for Lone Buffalo went out into the deep countryside. The highlight of the day was a visit to a Hmong village where we arrived just as the annual roving medical and dental clinic was setting up shop. Consultations were taking place on the football pitch and dentist inspections round the back of the community hut with patients laying on sun loungers. A great time was had by all with plenty of interaction between everyone from giving the children smile stickers (they do tend to be a bit serious) to playing football. It worked particularly well as True, a volunteer teacher at Lone Buffalo, is an American Hmong so could speak to the villagers and explain who we were.
As I am discovering – The universal game of football
True talking to the medical team and villagers
The Hmong are hill tribes that live at the highest altitudes, number about 300,000 in total and are a significant minority in the Phonsavan area. The agricultural staples of the Hmong are dry rice and corn raised by the slash and burn method. They also breed cattle, pigs, water buffalo and chickens. The individual Hmong tribes (White, Striped, Red and Black) are denoted by the colours that the woman wear in their elaborate costumes.
Hmong New Year outfits which will be worn at the end of November
After Laos gained independence in 1953 the US trained and supplied the Royal Lao Army as part of its strategy to combat communism in Southeast Asia. In 1961 CIA agents made contact with the Hmong and recruited 11,000 giving them arms and basic training to counter the threat of communism. In 1962 the US military personnel were officially withdrawn under the Geneva Agreement, however they continued the covert operations to supply and train the ‘secret army’ for guerrilla warfare. The Hmong fought a continuous guerrilla campaign for the next 12 years supported throughout by the US. A ceasefire was signed in 1973 and the secret army was officially disbanded, Hmong casualty figures have been put at 12,000 dead and 30,000 wounded. At this stage many Hmong left Laos and fled abroad – many to America including Trues father.
Inevitably there are many stories to be told of the Indochina war years – here you can see just one of a string of bomb craters across the land. The story of the unexploded ordinance still plaguing local lives is one that has to be told … in the next chapter.