The Hmong People’s Spiritual Traditions: A Connection to the Past and Present

The Hmong community in the United States strives to preserve and pass on their ancestral spiritual traditions to the younger generation.

In the bustling Hmong Village indoor market on the outskirts of St. Paul, Minnesota, families are busy preparing for the upcoming Hmong new year celebration. This annual event holds great significance for the Hmong community, as it is a time to connect with ancestral spirits and seek restoration of lost souls. The Hmong people, who fled persecution in their ancestral lands in China and later resettled in the United States, have a rich spiritual tradition rooted in animism. However, as younger Hmong generations become more assimilated into American culture, there is a growing concern about the loss of these spiritual practices. Community leaders and elders are working tirelessly to ensure that the younger generation understands and appreciates the importance of their ancestral customs.

Preserving Ancestral Customs

The Hmong people, who believe that spirits reside throughout the physical world, have a unique spiritual tradition that involves calling back lost souls and appeasing various spirits. However, many younger Hmong individuals have not been exposed to the spiritual significance of these traditions. Tzianeng Vang, a community leader, emphasizes the importance of preserving these customs, stating, “You preserve it here or you have nowhere.” Efforts are being made to educate the younger generation about their ancestral culture and traditions, as well as their spiritual significance.

Rituals and Ceremonies

The Hmong new year celebration, known as “Noj Peb Caug,” is a time for shamans to send off their spirit guides to regenerate their energy for another season of healing. Male heads of households perform soul-calling ceremonies, venerate ancestor spirits, and invoke the protection of good spirits. These intricate rituals often include the ritual slaughter of animals as an offering or an exchange of spirits. Moua Yang, who runs a hog butcher shop, provides a space for community members to perform rituals before the animals are killed. He sees it as a service to the community, as they believe it contributes to their well-being.

The Importance of Meat in Hmong Culture

Meat holds great significance in Hmong culture, especially during the new year celebrations. In the agricultural Hmong society, meat was considered a rare delicacy and was believed to bring wealth. Sai Vue, a Hmong individual born in St. Paul, recently took his three young boys to choose a pig to be slaughtered as a way to pay back his ancestors for their help. While most of the pork will feed the family for two months, the act of slaughtering the pig holds a deeper spiritual meaning for Vue. He wants his children to be comfortable with these customs and traditions, ensuring that they are passed down to future generations.

Educating the Youth

Educating the younger generation about their ancestral culture is a crucial aim of organizations such as the Hmong Cultural Center. Txongpao Lee, the center’s director, emphasizes the importance of learning from parents and preparing for when they have children of their own. However, the acceptance of ancestral customs varies among different church denominations, with approximately one-third of young Hmong individuals converting to Christianity. Efforts are being made to bridge the gap between the older generation’s spiritual beliefs and the younger generation’s religious affiliations.

Navigating Between Two Worlds

Growing up in St. Paul, Kevin Lee, the son of a shaman, had to navigate a regular childhood while also connecting with spirits on the other side. Despite facing misunderstandings from his peers, Lee embraced his spiritual abilities. Similarly, Hlee Xiong Lee, a shaman herself, takes pride in her children’s ability to effortlessly explain their traditions to others. The younger generation is finding ways to adapt to both Hmong traditions and American culture, ensuring that their ancestral customs remain alive.


The Hmong community in the United States is determined to preserve and pass on their ancestral spiritual traditions to future generations. Efforts are being made to educate the younger generation about the spiritual significance of their customs, rituals, and ceremonies. The Hmong new year celebration serves as a reminder of the importance of connecting with ancestral spirits and seeking restoration of lost souls. As the Hmong people navigate between two worlds, they continue to find ways to adapt and ensure that their rich spiritual heritage endures.






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