This is a Hmong word for “computer.” It is a made-up word based on the idea behind “computer.” Translated literally, it means “machine brain metal,” or “metal brain machine,” for the adjective follows the noun, or noun clause, in Hmong. It takes the classifier “lub.”
The Hmong “Word of the Week” is “Noj Tsiab Peb Caug.”
Obviously, this is not just one word, but it is one idea. It means “to celebrate New Year’s,” but literally translated, it would be “to eat the New Year’s feast.” “Noj” is “to eat,” “Tsiab” is the feast, and “peb caug,” which means “thirty,” refers to the 30th day of the lunar month after completing the rice harvest. That day is considered to be the last day of the old year and the beginning of the new.
One of the goals of this website is to promote the knowledge of Hmong culture through blog posts and fiction. It’s fitting, then, that I bring in a bit of Hmong language learning.
From 2004 to 2012, I taught a Hmong Culture class at BYU. It was designed to allow those students who had learned Hmong during their missionary service to get language credit toward graduation. I structured the class so that we covered Hmong History, Hmong folktales, and the Hmong funeral chant “Tell the Way,” or Qhuab Ke. I also threw in remedial vocabulary sessions to help the students learn Hmong words they didn’t know yet.
Why would you want to learn any Hmong? You could argue that it’s a dying language and culture, and that compared to other languages you could learn, there isn’t much benefit to knowing it. And you may be right.
On the other hand, the Hmong in America are nearly half a million strong now. They live in every state in the Union, with the main concentrations in California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. Outside America, the Hmong live in many countries, including Southern China, Northern Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Australia, France, and French Guyana. And, as more and more generations of Hmong in the Diaspora (the lands where a refugee population has settled) adopt the language and culture of their host countries, the need becomes greater to remember the language and the cultural connotations around that language, so that a part of Hmong identity may be preserved.
Besides, wouldn’t it be nice to know a few Hmong words when you happen to meet a Hmong?
Beginning in 1975, Hmong refugees from Laos began arriving in the United States. They settled in locations across America, including Utah. Often, their sponsors were religious, and the Hmong would sometimes convert to the religion of their sponsors.
The Hmong who settled in Utah were exposed to Mormonism and many were converted to the religion in the early 80s. This group subsequently resettled in California, where they make up the backbone of the Mormon Hmong population there.
On October 17, 2017, my teacher, my mentor, and my friend, Doug Thayer, passed away. In the area of Mormon literature—literature by, for, and about Mormons—Doug was a big deal. Mormon literary critics call him the “Mormon Hemingway” for his spare style of declarative sentences building the story period by period, as well as his interest in the natural world around him and a Mormon’s place in it. He was a master of the coming-of-age story. One of his main themes was that of innocence being cast out into the world and of necessity facing the realities of everyday existence. Many times, a young man who had grown up in the sheltered life of Utah Valley, and who was thus rather innocent and naive, would be forced to confront the evil, pain, and suffering of the World for the first time, and would have to learn to deal with it with what faith and light he had. If you have ever wondered what Mormon Literature has to offer, then Doug’s work is among the best. Continue reading “Douglas H. Thayer: In Memoriam”