While I was serving as a Hmong-speaking missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 90s, I learned of Liaj Luv Chaw Tsaws, a publication of the Hmong Community Association of the Hmong of French Guyana. For a young missionary who wanted to absorb everything he could about scholarly Hmong, this little magazine was a super find. Most issues had 60 pages or so of scholarly articles, stories, poems, songs, all in the Hmong language. It was wonderful!
The magazine was the brainchild of a Catholic Priest named Yves Bertrais who had lived among the Hmong in Laos for over 25 years. He, along with some other French linguists, was instrumental in creating the Romanized Popular Alphabet (RPA) that we use to this day for writing in Hmong. Before the 1950s, when this script was created, the Hmong didn’t have a written language. All their folktales, chants, histories, genealogies, ritual formulations, and so forth were passed down orally from generation to generation. Father Bertrais was known to the Hmong as Txiv Plig Nyiaj Pov. Perhaps no other person has been more instrumental in preserving Hmong cultural materials in writing than Txiv Plig Nyiaj Pov. (He deserves a blog post of his own. Coming soon!)
The title of the magazine, Liaj Luv Chaw Tsaws, refers to a “place where the sparrow and the swallow can land.” It is metaphorical for the Hmong finally finding a home wherever they had settled in the Diaspora. It was an apt title for the publication. In the age before the Internet hit the mainstream, Txiv Plig Nyiaj Pov and the other editors attracted contributions from Hmong men and women from all over the Diaspora: Thailand, Australia, France, French Guyana, Canada, Russia, Laos, China, and of course, the United States. The writers would contribute articles about different aspects of Hmong culture in their respective countries, fictional short stories (usually love stories), poems, photographs (printed in black and white), riddles, puzzles, and songs. The remarkable thing is that the content was all in Hmong.
The magazine was printed on A4-size paper, front and back, set horizontally, and then folded in half. Here are some pictures of Volume 1-2 of the 1992 Liaj Luv Chaws Tsaws:
This was the last issue to present this cover. It has a map of French Guyana and identifies the locations of the Hmong villages in that country that Txiv Plig Nyiaj Pov and his group of Hmong established after Laos fell to the Communists in 1975.
This page shows what the cover for upcoming issues will look like and the text on the right explains the reasons for the change.
These two pages are from an article about the Hmong qeej, or mouth organ. On the left, you can see a drawing of a Chinese Hmong qeej, whose pipes are straighter than its Laotian counterpart. The contributor is from China.
These two pages are the beginning of a folktale about a tiger, bear, and gorilla talking together. The contributor is from Thailand.
This is the second part of a serialized Hmong love story about Nuj Too and Zuag Paj and their romance. The contributor is from Russia.
Inside these early issues was a section that itself was a mini-magazine called Paj Huab. It shared news about the Hmong from the Winshan area of the Yunnan province of China. In Hmong, that area is called “Paj Tawg Teb.” After the next issue, the editors discontinued publishing Paj Huab.
Next, we have a travelogue where one of the main cultural gurus in French Guyana, Yaj Vam Thaiv, writes about his visit to China.
Lastly, the back cover is a table of contents and an announcement that Liaj Luv Chaw Tsaws is in need of contributions to keep publishing. A lack of funds seems to be the bane of many great enterprises.
The last issue I received was in 1997, and by that time, the publication was called Liaj Luv Xa Moo, which means “The sparrow and the swallow send the news.” I’m not certain that was the last issue, but around that time something happened that I didn’t receive any more issues. Perhaps, facing limited funding, Liaj Luv shut off the presses. Since that time, I have not seen the likes of this type of magazine. There have been Hmong magazines, but much of their content has been in English instead of Hmong, as the younger generations learn Hmong less and less. These other magazines, being published and distributed in the US, also focused on issues of Hmong-Americans primarily.
Liaj Luv Chaw Tsaws impressed me in three ways. First, it resisted the Diaspora, the relocation and division of the Hmong people across the globe, as much as it did the disintegration of the Hmong language. Here was a venue where one’s Hmong-ness came together regardless of where your host country was, which brings me to the second point. It was broadminded enough to include contributions from Hmong living in communist-controlled areas. If you were Hmong, then you were a potential contributor. It didn’t matter which side of the war you’d fought on. Finally, it didn’t have a political agenda. It celebrated Hmong culture and stories wherever they were to be found. It emphasized understanding and inclusion more than division and strife. Its overarching goal, and that of its sponsors, was the preservation of Hmong culture against the persistent demands of cultural assimilation assailing the Hmong in their respective host countries.
I miss it. Liaj Luv, koj dua twg lawm?
Do you have a memory of Liaj Luv Chaw Tsaws ? Is a 21st century Liaj Luv Chaw Tsaws possible? Share in the comments section below.