We arrived in Phonsavanh in the midst of the Hmong New Year’s celebration – to our great surprise! This event seems to be widely unknown amongst Western visitors. On the first evening we missed the Bull Fights, so the next day we were determined to see the Festival on the edge of town. After a rough 12 kilometer drive, we reached what seemed to be a fair-ground, with various games going on, like throwing darts. Needless to say that serious karaoke singers were trying to out-do each other, a must at every social gathering in Laos. Again, no lack of food stalls serving cheap and delicious local food.
The reason for this celebration is to allow a large gathering of Hmong people. Hill Tribes like the Hmong usually live in very remote and lonely areas, making it difficult for singles, both men and women, to find “the perfect match” and get married. To make things worse, Hmong people cannot marry a Hmong of the same tribe, like a Black Hmong is not be allowed to marry a Black Hmong, but only a White or Blue Hmong.
Their traditional clothing can easily identify the various groups of Hmong. Black Hmong wear traditional black dresses, White Hmong white ones, and Blue Hmong – take a guess…
After the Vietnam War, many Hmong emigrated to the USA (mostly California) and the Hmong New Year’s Eve Celebration brings back many of them to catch up with family and friends or to look for a husband or wife. These “rich relatives from overseas” are resented by young Lao Hmong as “unfair competition”, due to their significant financial means. Several young men we talked to were not amused by this massive influx of potential suitors!
What made this event so very special for us was that we became part of a truly genuine local festival. We were among maybe 6 to 8 tourists, who also found their way there. But it was much more than that… What took us completely of guard was the eagerness to pose for photos. The answer to the question “Can I take your picture?” was always a “Yes”. Especially the young ladies in their beautiful traditional dresses were so proud to have their picture taken.
People react differently in different countries when asked to have their pictures taken, from mostly friendly (India, Iran, Oman, partly China) to downright aggressive (Malawi) or “materialistic” (Tanzania, Southern Ethiopia). But very seldom did we experience such openness and enthusiasm to pose for pictures…