The Hmongs believe that a person has three (3) souls which separate upon death. One goes to heaven or the “place of the dead”; one remains in the grave; and one becomes reincarnated. The departing souls must be shown the right way to reach heaven. A Hmong’s final rite of passage is the funeral. The funeral ceremonies will vary according to each tribe or clan but the exorcising the evil spirits from the dead before burial is common amongst the clans and is important. It is believed to protect both the living and the dead from influence of evil spirits. If everything is not done properly, the spirit of the grave will haunt the living. The family of the deceased must thoroughly search the body for any metal; for it is believed that any metal on the body could alter the soul’s travel. Hmong people believe that if an autopsy is done, the spirit will not be able to reincarnate therefore they do not believe in autopsies.
The most important steps of a proper Hmong funeral with many rituals include the playing of the reed pipe ritual music “qhuab ke” (showing the way chanting, a funeral music to guide the soul of the deceased back to the land of the ancestors), “qeej tu saiv” (last breath reed music), “qeej tsa nees” (helping the person mount the horse for the heavenward journey”) and “qeej sawv kev” (raising the body to get it on its way to the spirit world just before burial).
When someone dies, the body is kept inside the house for three (3) to ten (10) days or longer depending on the age, the social and economic standing of the deceased person and his or her family. The body must be kept in the house until all of the deceased’s children and relatives arrive and until the day of burial. The corpse is usually buried in the afternoon. The spirit of the dead person should depart as the sun sets, so that the soul will not come back often to make a nuisance of itself. Within a year after the death, a ceremony must be held to release the departed soul. If this ceremony is not performed within this period, the spirit may cause harm because it cannot be reborn.
The relatives and neighbors of the deceased come to visit and to comfort the people of the house, fulfilling a social function for relatives. They exchange news and discuss the success of various villages. Today this is done at the funeral home where the rooster, the children’s blessing, and the big drum all play a role. It is expected to cry loudly and openly at the funeral ceremony and to say out loud why they are sad. If there is anyone who do not cry at the funeral it is taken to mean that they did not love the deceased person.