The most important steps of a proper Hmong funeral with many rituals include the playing of the Qeej (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).
One example of an important orally recited Hmong funeral song is “Cob Tsiaj” – (Song to give blessing to the family of the deceased through the sacrifice of a pig). This song is typically sung at a traditional Hmong funeral by the Txiv Xaiv (ceremonial funeral singer). The song “Cob Tsiaj” signifies the support (a pig) given to the deceased family by relatives and the community. As another example, the grieving family’s response song “Txia Tsiaj” (Receiving the Pig) is also orally recited by a ceremonial funeral singer. The response song “Txia Tsiaj” represents the mourning family’s thank you to the organizers of the funeral and also involves an expression of hope that the community will do its best to help the family at this difficult time.
To Show the Way Ritual (Qhuab Ke)
The Qhuab ke ritual is a multi-stanza song or poetry which guides the deceased on a journey from the place of death to reincarnation. The Taw Kev, which literally means “the one who shows the way”, is a well trained individual who recites all of this
During the funeral, a ritual called, Qhuab ke is followed. Qhuab ke literally means ‘to teach the way,’ in the sense of the way to the ancestors, the way of tradition, beliefs and practices, and the way of the Hmong life and history. A stanza, read by the taw kev during the quab ke could be construed in the following passage:
You are a person who belongs to this household.
Every day you walk about, flexing your body, moving about.
Today, why are you lavishly dressed, lying across the middle of the floor?
In the old days, you moved about, shifting your poise, full of energy.
How is it that you are so richly adorned, sleeping on the ground, occupying the length of the floor?
Why do you not stay and prepare the harvest for the arrival of brothers and cousins?
Or raise animals, expecting visits of other relatives?
You are a person of this household.
Why are you brilliantly dressed and taking leave, for what purpose?
The deceased answers:
I am a member of this household, a person of this family.
But Ntxij Nyoog is unkind; he has unleashed the fruit of death onto the earth, scattering it on the far side of the mountain.
Unaware of it, I have picked it up to eat.
Sickness has swept over me, engulfing the essence of my liver;
Chill spread slowly invading the vessels of my heart.
Appreciating the qhuab ke Ritual
Because the Hmong are heterogeneous, a Yang clan may have a slight different version of the qhuab ke ritual than a Xiong or Vang clan. Despite the many versions, the core objectives are similar in all of them. For example, the core objectives are to illustrate the “(1) creation and origin of life and death, (2) returning journey to the ancestors, [and how to find his or her placenta], and (3) regeneration of the soul‖ (Her, 2005). As the qhuab ke ritual progresses through the different stages, it can take anywhere from an hour to several hours.
Because the qhuab ke is a well structured ritual, there are many underlying symbolic meanings to it. First, the ritual has a strict sequence order to follow. This allows knowledge of the culture to pass from one generation to the next. Although Hmong do not have an official written language to keep track of records, the qhuab ke ritual remains one of the most important rituals for the reason that it functions as a mapping system, perpetuating past memories for those who are alive. Second, the ritual traces back all the major places the deceased has lived, preserving the recollection of that individual. Hence, this signifies that the past is being acknowledged as much as the present. In addition, because the ritual speaks about life, death, and everything in between, it is an occasion for the Hmong to appreciate and embrace their values and beliefs. Her (2005) asserted explicitly:
The efficacy of zaaj qhuab ke lies in its ability to evoke memories invested in myth, stories, space, places (dwellings) and landscapes, geography and terrains of live experiences. Guided by this song [chant], each person, upon death, would embark on the lingering journey across the 3 domains… first making his or her way out of the family home.
Qeej Tu Siav Ritual
A well trained expert in qeej would play the Qeej Tu Siav ritual, literally translates into “The Song of Expiring Life” using a Qeej (a pipe instrument made out of bamboo). At this stage, the qeej player would execute the song according to the death of the deceased. For example, if the individual was poisoned, hung him or herself, or died in a car accident, the qeej player would be executing the song accordingly.
Within these qeej songs lie powerful symbolic meanings that only the qeej player and few others are able to comprehend, given their experiences. An example of a verse for a deceased who had poisoned himself or herself could be translated into the following passage:
You are born into this world
Have decided to overdose your self
Going back to your ancestor
They will not accept you…