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Utah's Foremost Platform for Undergraduate Research Presentation
2013 Abstracts

Prophets, Scripts, and Nations: Hmong Religious and Ethnonational Borders in Northern Thailand

Belinda Ramirez, Brigham Young University


The Hmong are a stateless hill tribe ethnic group originating in southern China. Due to persecution and discrimination from the Chinese, many Hmong migrated to the surrounding regions of the Southeast Asian massif in the eighteenth century. The mountainous homes of the Hmong now lay within the borders of countries such as Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Religiously, Hmong are traditionally a shamanistic people, believing in spirits and worshipping their ancestors through diverse practices, such as animal sacrifice and spirit calling. In addition to traditional Hmong belief (dab qhuas), many messianic religious groups have recently surfaced within the Hmong diaspora, often accompanied by a prophetic leader, criticisms of traditional Hmong practices, and a hopeful vision of the future in which there exists a Hmong country. My research on this subject is based on an ethnographic field study in Nan Province, Thailand among the Is Npis Mis Nus, a Hmong messianic religious group. Using traditional anthropological field methods, I acquired data on the practices and beliefs of the Is Npis Mis Nus, as well as investigated their conceptions of nationalism, ethnicity, and identity. In this paper, I posit that the rituals and beliefs of the Is Npis Mis Nus reveal the group’s desire for Hmong political, cultural, and economic legitimacy and national sovereignty. These beliefs and rituals also serve as boundaries that provide a clear distinction between messianic and non-messianic Hmong. Additionally, I explain how the characteristics of the Is Npis Mis Nus religion help the Hmong deal with the social and ethnic disruptions that globalization has presented.