A Chat with a Local Black Hmong Woman

Find out what it’s like being a local Black Hmong woman from the mountainous region in Northern Vietnam.

Giang Thi Mao is a young indigenous Black Hmong woman who lives in Ta Van Village, Sapa. She has a little boy, and she works as a tour guide for Sapa Sisters Tourist. She has never taken an English class, but she speaks english very well. Mao has lived in Sapa since she was born, so she knows a lot about Black H’mong culture, and the loss of their traditional textile making techniques. Read on to to get to know Mao a little bit better, and to learn about the Black Hmong people and their beautiful culture!

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Giang Thi Mao

Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?

I grew up in Sapa. My childhood was very fun because I had a lot of friends growing up, as the people in Sapa are all very nice and friendly. We all had to help our parents out with house chores ever since we were very young. This turned out to be pretty good for me, because I basically learned how to take care of myself since I was a little girl.

How old were you when you learned how to weave (or to sew, to embroider) and who taught you? What did you think about it when you first started weaving?

I first started learning embroidery when I was only 9 years old. My mother and my sister taught me a lot. By the time I was 14, I was already able to make my own clothes. It was very difficult at the beginning, but it was very exciting. I really enjoy learning embroidery and I am always trying to improve my skills.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

My favorite childhood memory is from back when I was a seller. It was my first time meeting foreigners, and I was able to learn English from them. In order to study a sentence, I would listen carefully, and then try to remember how it sounded, so that I could use it next time. No writing, no reading. It was my happiest time ever. I had plenty of foreign friends, who were nice and friendly people. My local friends and I, together with our foreign friends, had a great time hanging out together. I always remember those times fondly.

How would you describe your typical day?

Usually, I go on a trekking tour for Sapa Sisters Trekking Adventures. We may spend a night on the mountain, sleeping in the camps. On my day off, I stay at home in order to sew and embroider traditional clothes for my husband and my son, while preparing for the upcoming Tet holiday. I also study other women’s skills, and my mother frequently helps me out, as well.

What do you hope for your son and his accomplishments?

I hope he will always stay healthy and that he’ll be able to study a lot, and that he will achieve what he wants.

What do you like most about touring Sapa trekking tour?

For me, there is no other job as good a being a tour guide. This job has no pressure at all! I have the chance to make friends and hang out with many people from around the world. I can also learn their language, their customs and cultures, and enjoy their interesting stories.

What is your favorite local dish to eat?

My favorite local dish is the “mem mien” made from our home-grown fresh corn. Its preparation is a very complicated and time-consuming process, but the dish itself tastes extremely delicious. I really enjoy it. Young local people don’t know how to make this food anymore, I seldom get to eat it nowadays.

When did Hmong young women stop learning how to weave and paint with batik?

Since 2010, a number of Hmong girls have adopted a more modern lifestyle and they eventually abandoned weaving. But most of us still know how to weave. In the past 20 years, I haven’t seen anyone who was able to create batik textiles. Only a few old women know this skill. However, there are some people that still wear clothes made of batik textiles now. They buy fabrics from the market and their mothers paint them for them, with unique designs.

Batik-Hmong-weave

Batik Hmong Weave

How many Hmong traditional suites are there? Are they pants or dresses? What is the traditional color?

Our traditional clothes always come with pants, we don’t wear dresses or skirts. The most commonly used colors are black and indigo. It all depends on the number of  patterns that we embroider, but in general we can make 2-3 or up to 4 full suites per year.

How many traditional clothes do you have? Who makes them for you?

I have a total of 4-5 suites. Each year, I make two suites for me and one for my husband. A suite is usually worn for 6-7 years. But because I don’t like to wear old clothes, I sell all of them after 2-3 years. Then I buy threads with the money, and make new clothes! I don’t wear batik anymore, instead, I wear clothes that I’ve embroidered and decorated myself. My mother sews them for me, as I’m still practicing at sewing. Right now I can only weave, dye fabrics and do embroidery work.

If you enjoyed hearing from a local Black Hmong, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave your thoughts below.

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