Iu Mien people

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The Iu Mien people are a Southeast Asian subset of the Yao people, a minority group originally from China. Displaced by the Vietnam War, many settled in the United States from the late 1970s to the mid 1990s. From China, the Iu Mien migrated to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. They speak the Iu Mien language.

History[edit]

The Iu Mien people were the first civilization in China according to the chanting song story, Iu Mien Elders, a shaman's worship book written by Iu Mien elders in ancient Chinese characters. The Iu Mien nation was located in the southern part of China today known as Guangdong, Guangxi and Hunan provinces and was ruled by the king of the Iu Mien people. The last Iu Mien King was King Pan, the namesake of the modern Iu Mien surnames: Phan, Saephanh, Saephan, Phanh, Pharn, Pan, Pham, etc. King Pan and the Chinese emperor declared war against each other 800 years ago over disputed territory.[1] Iu Mien, led by King Pan, were fighting to protect their people and their territory. King Pan and Iu Mien suffered tremendous losses. King Pan lost countless soldiers and civilian casualties as well as territory to the Chinese emperor. The Chinese emperor captured most of the Iu Mien's territory. Iu Mien and King Pan were unable to fight due to outnumbered soldiers and weapons, which forced King Pan to negotiate with the Chinese emperor. The Chinese emperor gave two options to King Pan and Iu Mien people: 1) Surrender to the Chinese emperor and sign a treaty to give all territorial land to the Chinese emperor, or 2) King Pan can continue to fight, but the Chinese determine that they can genocide and wipe out Iu Mien society in a short period. King Pan and his government chose to give up all territories to China and signed the treaty called “Passport to travel in the hill” or “Passport to cross the mountain.” This document pertained relevant information. The Chinese emperor had written this document in Chinese character, as the following stated “Iu Mien people have rights to maintain their identity, language, culture, and worship system and live on the hill side or in the mountain to cultivate land for farming and crops and raise their family. The Iu Mien would not be allowed to form their own government and have no rights to pursue their own nation. Iu Mien, who possesses this document, has the legal rights to cross any territories/ borders to settle and to build their village in the hill/mountain to make a living by farming without delaying by any regional governments. The governments of that country are responsible for their wellbeing and educating them to follow the rules of laws of the country that Iu Mien are living in.”

After the loss of nation, the 12 existing clans of Iu Mien people had to separate into small villages due to the mountainous area and foot hill land. Each village consists of 15 to 20 families. The majority of village members are related. In some cases, they kept their clan together. Their farming life style is slash-and-burn to clear grass and the trees to fertilize crops. Hunting and fishing were their primary career for men to provide foods for their families. They hunt many different kinds of wild animals ranging from birds, squirrels, monkeys, deer, wild buffalo, to elephants. Iu Mien women's primary role is to take care of household chores and feed animals. Iu Mien's written language is similar to Chinese character which is for religious and chant only songs. No written language for daily speaking. Every five to ten years, the mountain where Iu Mien people lived and farmed will no longer be able to plant crops because slash and burn process destroys proper elements soils needed to grow crops in the region. They have to move to a new place and location in the deep tropical forest to start a new life and a new village all over again. Iu Mien people are scattered all over the mountains in China for not many generations, the mountain became desert because of the slash and burn of the forests and not planting new trees have cause drought. All mountains where the Iu Mien people lived became desert resulting in them becoming unable to grow crops. They looked for new places such as other mountainous areas to build village and farming. They had to search further south and eventually moved into Vietnam.

Migration from China to Vietnam[edit]

No record indicated what year the Iu Mien had entered Vietnam because of the constant fear of persecution by the Chinese emperor. The method of slash and burn used throughout mountainous regions in China led to a drought which caused the Iu Mien people to migrate to Vietnam. They saw Vietnam as an opportunity to build new villages and cultivate forest for farming. The Iu Mien population gradually migrated into Vietnam, in the province called “Moung Lai.” The lands were rich of natural soil. The Iu Mien people were able to produce enough food to support the family without starvation. However, the local people persecuted the Iu Mien. When one of the local people died, they brought the dead body to an Iu Mien village and put in front of Iu Mien hut house door late at night. When it was dawn in the early morning, Iu Mien found a dead body in front of their door step. They reported this to the local authorities. The local authorities and local people accused the Iu Mien people of murdering the victim. They charged Iu Mien people with all of the wealth they had. In some cases, they charged the Iu Mien capital punishment by hanging to death for a crime that they did not commit. The other problem was the local government imposed a high tax on Iu Mien families. Each year when a family who couldn’t afford to pay tax, the local government would force the Iu Mien people to sell a child to pay the tax due. The Iu Mien families were deteriorated by the government's action and no longer be able to continue to live in Vietnam. They were searching for a new place again. During 1600s and 1800s, the Iu Mien people had found Laos and Thailand. They gradually migrated to Laos and Thailand.

Life in Laos and Thailand[edit]

Since Iu Mien people had settled into Laos and Thailand, they’ve gained more independence. One group of Iu Mien migrated from Vietnam to Thailand. The other migrated from Vietnam to Laos. They were able to form their own villages and run by a village chiefs. Laos and Thai governments were helping Iu Mien to select their village chiefs to run their village affairs and report to city mayor and governor of their village social issues and problems. Iu Mien people were allowed to maintain their culture, identity, language, culture norms, and ways of Iu Mien's living. Rich Iu Mien families would be able to own a house in the city and send their kids to school. The poor would be able to find the land to cultivate for farming without government restrictions. The natural soils of the land are rich. They are free to farm anywhere within the countryside. The Iu Mien people were able to plant crops and be self-sufficient for many generations. The tropical forests in Laos and Thailand have all kinds of wild animals for Iu Mien to hunt for consumption as well as various kinds of tropical fruits and wild vegetables which provide nutrients to Iu Mien people. The rivers have plenty of fishes for Iu Mien to fish for food. They were enjoying life and the environment in Laos and Thailand for many generations until 1960, when the cold war began.

Iu Mien in the war in Laos[edit]

In 1960s, when the Cold War was occurring between the United States and the Soviet Union with an arms race this caused political unrest in Southeast Asia. The United States spread the free world government system into Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. At the same time, the Soviet Union had spread the communist system into Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as well. The people within those three countries also divided and ran by two government systems. Civil war broke out. Vietnam divided into two countries, North Vietnam and South Vietnam; North Vietnam was ran by a communist regime led by Ho Chi Minh. South Vietnam was led by the elected Vietnamese President and supported by the United States' government. The Vietnam War began. At the same time, Laos and Cambodia also had two government systems, one supported by United States and the other supported by Soviet Union Socialist Republic. The civil war began as Vietnam War. The cold war in South East Asia has interrupted the lives of Iu Mien society and changed them forever. The United States government sent Central Intelligent Agency (CIA) and military advisors into Laos in support of the Royal Lao government to fight against communists Pathet Lao. They recruited Iu Mien people as their soldiers to fight against the Lao Communists regime. The war had caused many Iu Mien casualties along with other tribes. Iu Mien soldiers were armed with American made weapons and dressed in American military uniforms and also funded by American taxpayer dollars. Over a 15-year period, American bombs dropped by American planes over Laos more than World War I and World War II combined. Lao citizens became refugees all over Laos. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided aid to the refugees.

By 1975, the Pathet Lao communists had gained complete control over Laos. They captured the Royal Lao high ranking government officials and sent them to a concentration camp. The majority of them starved to death. The others were sentenced to death by firing squad and others suffered from illness due to malnutrition and also died in the concentration camp. The majority of former elected government officials, ministries, governors, mayors, government workers, and all educators were sent to concentration camp for re-education. In most cases, the Lao communist soldiers, armed with Soviet made or Chinese made AK-47s, forced them to work from dawn to dark without food and many starved to death. The majority of Iu Mien was among the Lao communists enemy due to the involvement with the U.S. CIA operation during the war in Laos. Iu Mien began fleeing the Laos communist regime in mid-1975 into Thailand. These escapes mostly began late at night. While Laos communist troops were sleeping whole villages would packed their personal belongings, valuable items, silver bars, jewelry, and food. Everyone had to carry their personal belongings on their backs and walk bare foot. The journey began by walking on a terrain trail and it took about a month to reach the Thai border. During journey, Iu Mien refugees had encounters with many dangerous consequences. Some stepped on land mines set up by the Laos communist troops and lost their lives without proper burial by their love ones. They encountered bandits armed with semi-automatic weapons, who took all valuable items from the refugee families. Furthermore, Iu Mien lost many lives by crossing monsoon flooded river. Many family members drowned while crossing the rising river during monsoon season. When the Iu Mien refugees whom made it to the Thai border, they faced Laos communist persecution. However, the Thai border patrol troops stopped them at the Thai and Lao border. From time to time, Thai defense Minister closed the border and did not allow refugees to enter Thailand within a certain time.

The refugee camps were funded and set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and enforced by Thai authorities. The refugee camps were barbed with metal wire and guarded by Thai soldiers 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. No refugees were allowed to go out of the refugee camp. The living conditions were very poor. There was no running water. There was no clean water to drink or for a shower. Personal hygiene was poor and caused illness. The food was distributed from UNHCR program but had to go through the Thai authorities before it reached the needy refugees. By that time, the food got to refugee families were so limited. All refugees were starving and cause malnutrition as well as all kind of illness and lost many lives during their stay in the refugee camp.

In 1976, the western governments sent their embassy personnel to interview Lao refugees and process legal documents to allow them to settle in western countries. From 1976 to 1995, 40,000 thousand plus Iu Mien refugees were settled in the United States of America. The majority of Iu Mien people in the U.S. today live in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and North Carolina. Few lives scatter all over the United States due to follow jobs, pursue education, and marriage which has to move to close to family members. The Iu Mien people today are spreading out to the western hemisphere. About 1,500 plus were settled in France. About 400 Iu Mien people were settled in Canada. Few families were settled in Australia and New Zealand. A couple families had settled in Demark. Each time the Iu Mien migrated into new country, they have to leave many fellow Iu Mien people behind. The majority of Iu Mien people still remain in China. At least 2 to 3 million Iu Mien are living in China. 500,000 thousand plus Iu Mien are living in Vietnam. About 50,000 thousand plus Iu Mien people are living in Thailand and about 30,000 thousand plus are still remaining in Laos

Culture[edit]

Marriage[edit]

The Iu Mien have a strong family foundation. Marriage norms are strongly preserved in Iu Mien society. When a man feels that his girlfriend is a potential wife, he will ask his parents to set up a meeting with the girl's parents. When the girl's parents accepted and confirmed that they’re welcome by the boy's parents to meet with them, usually the girl's parents would prepare a meal and welcome the boy's parents to join together. Boy's parent will ask girl's birth date to match each other. If their birth dates are matching, further discussion will take place. The next step is to give a silver bracelet to the girl. This symbolizes primary engagement. The girl's responsibility is to decide whether she is loved her boyfriend and committed herself to spending the rest of her life with him. She will keep the silver bracelet, if she feels he is the right man. However, she will make an attempt to return a silver bracelet to her boyfriend at least once to test him. This is a chance for her to test how much commitment her boyfriend has to spend the rest of his life with her. The boyfriend has to bring the silver bracelet back to his girlfriend and ask her to keep it. Normally, she will keep it. The boy will then ask his parents to set up a second appointment to negotiate dowry of the girl and what kind of wedding the girl's parent would like to propose. There are two types of Iu Mien wedding, the small wedding and big wedding ceremony. The big wedding cost 15,000 to 30,000 dollars excluded dowry. The small wedding cost about 5,000 to 15,000 thousand dollars.

During the wedding day, the parents of both of the people getting married will select one important master ceremony. These two important figures are their guidance, mentors, and lecture to explain about their journey as a husband and a wife's role. These two master wedding ceremonies are well respected in the Iu Mien Community with an expert in Iu Mien religion like master shaman and also know well how to solve Iu Mien social problem. For husband side's master is called cingh suiv (in Iu Mien language) to perform religion ceremony to chant and report to ancestor god that young wife has joined a family member and add into the family. Now the ancestor god has to protect her from harm and bless newly couple with kids and wealth during their marriage and for the rest of their live as husband and wife last for a life time commitment. For the girl's side of master is called, muih mienh (in Iu Mien language) also performs the ceremony the night before escort the bride into the groom's house. The master ceremony is to chant and thanks the ancestor spirit god to care her from birth up to today as a young woman who is now ready to have her own family. Her name removed from her ancestor god and will be added to her husband's side of ancestor god.

Iu Mien family structure is based on kin-ship system when a women gets married she will move to live with her husband's side of the family. A wife's primary responsibility is to do household chores. A husband is responsible for financial support and food to the family. Both husband and wife have a mutual responsibility to take care of their children and do any other household chores.

Religion[edit]

After losing his nation to China, King Pan had created a new worship system by worshiping ancestor spirit and a universal god. Due to no permanent place to build temples, King Pan and the shaman/priest had formed art-posters consisting of the universal gods including three brothers of Celestials and many universal spirit gods.[2] These poster images can be easily carried when they moved from mountain to mountain without interrupting worshiping. All shaman spiritual books start with King Pan as a founder of the religion and creator. The most important aspect of Iu Mien ancestor worship is when a person died. When a family member who has died, they will host a ceremony. Iu Mien people believe a deceased person has two types of spirit/soul. The good and bad spirits that need to be properly send to certain place. The Iu Mien priest/shaman will perform a ceremony to guide the deceased soul/spirit to the spirit world. The good spirit will be worship by his/her children and it can help protect family from harm and bless family in many means. The bad spirit will be sent to hell and locked away so it will not be able to come back to haunt family members. The priests/shamans perform a ceremony of chanting 2–3 days in order to wrap up and complete the deceased spirit and soul and guide each spirit/soul to the right destination of the spirit world so that evil spirit doesn’t comes back to haunt family members. The deceased's good spirit/soul becomes heavenly being and looks after his/her surviving family members on a daily basis.

From time to time, family members will offer a chicken and joss paper money to the deceased's good spirit to ask for guiding and protection from harm. In other times, family members dream or have nightmares about the deceased family member. That means the deceased spirit/soul needs help by their living family member so the ancestor god will send a message by dreaming. In the other occasion, ancestor gods will send strange things such as making bird fly into Iu Mien house. If this signal is received by family member, the ceremony will take place. By offering chicken and joss paper, the spirit world will gain wealth. In return, god spirit will help human world to gain all kinds of well-being. Such as a family's business will gain profit, working person will get paid raised, students have creative ideas to concentrate on study, a person feel sad without a reason will gain strength and confident. Ill person will gain energy and get heal/well. Each deceased person get three times ceremony during his/her children's life time, the spirit/soul become heaven god and has more power to take good care of his/her children and grandchildren. When Iu Mien priests/shaman chanting, they start to tell a story of how King Pan created society, the priest/shaman laminated from the King Pan and called King Pan's spirit/soul to bless so that the priest has more power to perform the ceremony well. King Pan was a head of religion and the head of state when he was a King. Even today, Iu Mien people still believe his spirit/soul has power to deal with spirit world and human world for many good reasons. (Religion story telling by Saeng Fou Orn Saephanh, grand priest/Shaman).

Festivals[edit]

There are two main holidays that the Iu Mien celebrate, New Year's Day and July 14. New Year's Day for the Iu Mien is the same day as the Chinese Lunar New Year. There is a ritual on the eve of the New Year, in which an Iu Mien family will prepare an offering to their ancestor god such as a shaman chanting and offering incense, pig, paper and firewood for the ritual. After the offering by a shaman is over, a pig will be cooked and made into a variety of dishes and family members, cousins, relatives, and friends will be invited to have a feast together. Eggs dyed red are used for Iu Mien New Year's Day. Eggs at New Year symbolise blessing to an individual's soul or spirit. The other holiday is July 14, celebrate spirit day. The Iu Mien people believe that on the 14th, it is a day for the entire universe of spirits or gods New Year's Day. In the old days, villagers did not go to work in the fields or farms or do anything related to work outside the house. In every household, the people give credits to the spirit and let them free, the household will offer incense paper to the ancestor spirits for them to buy things in the spirit world. On July 15, the ancestor spirits are traditionally believed to be in every leaf in every tree. People are traditionally forbidden to touch or explore all tree leaves. It is believed that if a person touches a leaf or cuts down a tree this will bother spirits which will cause the individual who did so to become ill . On July 16 it is believed that the whole universe's spirits return to the spirit world so everything in the human world is believed to become normal again.

Iu Mien in the United States today[edit]

Today, there are about 30,000 to 50,000 Iu Mien people living in the United States; they adapted well in the industrial country which they learned to obtain job skills and work in the production workforce as well as white collar jobs in the United States of America. Since Iu Mien people have arrived in the United States, they have had the opportunity to go to school and continue their higher education and be accepted into colleges and universities. Some Iu Mien students are accepted into prestigious colleges such as Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and others. There are more and more Iu Mien who have graduated with doctorates and law degrees and joined the professional workforce and contributed their services to the society. Many have graduated with master's degrees and undergraduate degrees who have joined the workforce in many fields such as the private sector, public sectors and small business entrepreneurs. Furthermore, in 2012, the first Iu Mien was elected into the public office as city council in San Pablo, California. Overall, Iu Mien people have made progress and catching up with the majority in the mainstream society and assimilated into American dominant culture well. However, there are many social issues and problems facing the Iu Mien communities in the United States as well. Many Iu Mien people are still poor and living under poverty level.

Challenges faced by the Iu Mien in the United States today[edit]

There are many social problems facing the Iu Mien American community throughout the United States today. The first generation {first wave of arrival to America} of Iu Mien American suffered the most because of culture shock and language barrier. America is not their preference place to live because they do not know and understand the culture, language, and modern society system. The other factor that first generation Iu Mien American in the U.S is facing is education and job skill. A large proportion of the first generation of Iu Mien Americans are unemployed and depend on government social service programs to survive. Therefore, the government funding to social service programs is vital to provide benefit to them in order to sustain their family together. The English class and basic job training to the first generation of Iu Mien American is essential for them to gain proficiency in English and job skill to join workforce to build for self-sufficiency. Because of the US, CIA operation in Laos and at the end of the war, Iu Mien along with the U.S. CIA had lost the war and forces them to abandon their village, properties, and land behind in Laos. Suddenly, they came to America with nothing. Now, they have to learn everything all over again. Culture shock is the hardest for the first generation of Iu Mien American to adapt in America. Parents and kids are often confrontational with each other with minor social problem can potentially escalate the matter into major battle field within the family. Kids have a chance go to school and learn to be American and adapted quickly. Kids want to listen to pop music and dress in modern style as well as exercise their freedom of expression toward parents. Parent see that their kids are not respecting them and see their kids associated with deviant behavior and often cause major arguing within the family. The cause has enormous impact on the first generation of Iu Mien American and leads to emotional stress, loneliness, and mental illness. Iu Mien Community needs financial resources from the government to address mental health problem tremendously. The other social problem that first generation of Iu Mien American face is illegal drug used. When they’re confrontation with social problem such as spousal conflict, parents and children conflict, they do not know how to cope with the stress. By using illegal drug to relieve their stress and emotion are primary factor to illegal drug addiction. The other factor contributed to drug addiction was that they believe illegal drug such as opium can cure chronic illness so instead of going to see doctor, they use illegal drug to slow down the chronic pain. They often do not trust modern medical doctors. As consequences, some of the first Iu Mien American addicted to illegal drug. The third major social problem is alcoholic and gambling because lack of social activities for them to participate, and isolation is the main cause to first Iu Mien American become alcoholic and gamblers. Iu Mien Communities are lack of financial resources and programs to address the social problem within Iu Mien Communities. Therefore, the government programs allocate funding to Iu Mien Community is essential and vital for their basic survival.

The second generations of Iu Mien American can barely ends meet. They work hard to provide basic need to raise their children and hope their children will have a better life. However, both parents are working full-time and leave them no time to bond with their kids or help their children with school activities and homework. The other factor is that they lack of parenting skill on how to discipline their kids. Parents are not aware of the parenting skills necessary to distinguish between discipline and abuse. The second generations of Iu Mien American are often charge with child abuse case and have trouble with the laws. As the result, Iu Mien kids do not do well in academic in school as other races. Iu Mien students are still struggling in school and have poor grade. Iu Mien teenagers are involved with deviant behavior as other teenagers in America such as joining gangs, substance abuse, and cause truancy in school. Iu Mien students need programs and resources at school district level to address the needs of Iu Mien students. The Iu Mien Community as whole need to raise awareness to every sectors of government and private sectors to learn and understand the needs of Iu Mien people.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "LIMCA". limcacenter.org. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  2. ^ "LIMCA". limcacenter.org. Retrieved 25 January 2015.
  • Patricia Moore-Howard, Ph.D. (August 1989). The Iu Mien: Tradition And Change.

External links[edit]

Story compiled by Frank O Saephanh, Iu Mien American Community Leader, Lao Iu Mien Culture Association (LIMCA), Advisory Board 2013–Present, Iu Mien American National Coalition,(IMANC) Vice President 2009-2012, Chairman of Sacramento Iu Mien District Elder council 2004-2008. {The Iu Mien: Tradition And Change, Patricia Moore-Howard, Ph.D. August, 1989}