history passed through textiles in hmong quilts

by Abigail Percy on 03/04/2006

in Historic Craft, Quilting

the other day, kari-bombari (also here) posted a thrifted quilt she was completely stunned by. an incredible mystery… who had made this quilt? what did it mean? she wrote:

“seeing this shocked me
where was this done?
who embroidered it?”

in flickr, others are attempting to understand the meaning (see more comments). éireann (oh bara) recently posted a link which explained this work is by hmong refugees, and it details the escape from the khmer rouge in excruciating detail.

ak47-hmong(detail please see the original)

when i first saw it, i pulled my boyfriend over to see this jaw-dropping image, literally with my hand over my mouth. he instantly recognized the AK-47, a model of a gun not used by european/US forces… though we didn’t know the story the detail and accuracy is amazing. to think of the other horrific details depicted in these textiles is just simply dumbfounding.

the story about this lost-and-found work folds in on itself… it was discarded to be bought… as karin said, “I couldn’t just leave this at the jumble sale. “… it was not passed from generation to the next in the hmong tradition. however here we find it, and we can learn more about their amazing history, as it has been captured in the quilt.
it’s really stunning and effective as it was meant to be.

it’s actually kind of amazing, exactly how effective an ‘readable’ this non-verbal narrative is… clever lutterlagkage (also here) figured out it is a story to be read from upper left to lower right, in four lines, detailing an escape across water:

“It is like a story and you are supposed to read it from right to left, don’t you think? So that makes it a four line tale about a horrible incident that happens to a village. Their village is attacked and they escape. They cross the river and end up in another country – the soldiers’ uniforms are different.”

More about the Hmong tradition…

Hmong Textile tradition
“Though they left their homelands behind when they emigrated to America, the Hmong people have preserved their cultural traditions through the making of pa ndau or “flower cloth.” This type of appliqué, adorned with embroidery, originated with the creation of ceremonial clothing for major life events. Celebrations of births, weddings, and even death required specially made cloth created by the woman of the house.”

Read more about the Hmong Tragedy

“The Asian Hmong culture is agrarian, like many cultures in Indochina, with religious beliefs based in animism (including the use of shamans for guidance, healing, and other ceremonies). Hmong culture places a great deal of emphasis on relationships between relatives and members of clans, with respect for elders and strong families. Remembering ancestors and traditional ways is important, and many efforts are made to preserve traditional ways and to keep the memory of the accomplishments and suffering of ancestors. Elaborate Hmong quilts or “flower cloths” (bandao or “paj ntaub” in Hmong) are one example of Hmong art that conveys stories from the past.

Hmong refugees in the U.S. struggle with our unusual ways, though the rising generation of youth have melted in well with American culture, even at the risk of losing touch with their heritage. For the older generation, adopting the new ways has been painful. The language is a great barrier to the elderly, many of whom have had no schooling and had no reading skills prior to coming to the U.S. Simple things like going to a store or walking through town can be terrifying experiences for the elderly. “

Indeed, there is more to the story of their lost history… Hmong people fought for the US forces with little or no recognition for their role in the Lao war, read an excerpt from “forgotten soldiers“.

Just completely stunning. Thank you to Karin for buying this piece, and not shirking away from its plain request that we simply look at it and attempt to learn from it.

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