My Hmong story cloth was relatively simplistic; it depicted the process of marriage in the Hmong community, detailing in images the steps involved in courting, ceremony, and family incorporation. The cloth itself was hand made on a cotton-polyester blend, and was approximately 3 feet by 3 feet. The outer pattern of the cloth resembled others around the collection: a basic triangular pattern pointing the eye to the center of the work.
What struck me as most interesting about this cloth was that underneath it was one that was very similar, following almost the same pattern, but with some added text and different coloration. I think that this is a very good example of how the clothes are a commodity. This is not a case of art of art’s sake, but instead an economic venture. The design showing marriage ceremonies among the Hmong must be a popular one, because more than one person makes them. The styles of the two clothes were enough different that one could tell they were designed by different hands, but that they were based off the same general design.
As for the cloth itself, another thing that struck me as interesting was that there was a definite timeline that could be followed, although it was not consistent throughout. The first line of the cloth shows the Hmong New Year courting rituals that involve a game using balls and umbrellas called pov pob. This line exists all in the same time period, and line has no progression.
****I did a little research on this traditional practice and found that it has survived along with the Hmong and is still a method used for dating amongst Hmong all over the world, including in the U.S. To find out more about pov pob in the U.S: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jan/01/local/la-me-hmong-festival-20110101.
The second line of the cloth (below the Hmong New Year) depicts the marriage ceremony of the couple, including the kidnap of the bride and the blessing of the marriage by a rooster. This line, unlike the first, starts on the right and moves left along with the story.
The third line is more open to interpretation than the other three. It shows the meeting of the two families from which the couple comes. There is a scene depicting the two in the couple being given advice along side a celebratory feast and negotiation. This line is different than the other two, as there is more than one event going on, but no necessary order to them.
The fourth line creates a single time like the line depicting the Hmong New Year’s Celebration, but it shows a travelling procession of people going to the wedding’s equivalent of the reception. This is an example of a moving timeline.
Overall, this cloth follows a relatively simple top-to-bottom method of storytelling, though the story acts almost as a guide rather than a specific example of an event or myth.
The way this cloth functions as an example of history and culture of the Hmong people follows similar paths as that of the work of the griots in West Africa, as it is a guide to how to live. Griots provided advice to kings about the past, the story cloths, this one in particular, provides advice on the process of meeting your significant other in a traditional way. It also instills gender and familial roles, such as tales like Beowulf or The Iliad. What must be remembered about each of these cloths though, is that there primary purpose is commercial. The traditions on each of them is meant to be consumed by travellers from the West, tourists and UN workers and the like. Their significance to the Hmong people as representations of history is certainly affected by this fact.