What is the Qeej (Kheng) instrument?
ORIGIN OF THE QEEJ INSTRUMENT
- There are several Qeej creation stories that explain how the Qeej came to be and why it is used for Hmong funeral, wedding and New Year ceremonies
- Early evidence for the existence of the Qeej instrument is found in Chinese scriptures dating to 3000 B.C.
DESCRIPTION OF THE QEEJ INSTRUMENT
- The Qeej instrument is made out of six bamboo reeds. Each bamboo reed is precisely measured to be a certain length. The body of the Qeej instrument is carved out of wood and hollowed out. The mouthpiece is made out of copper. The straps that hold the reeds and body together are usually made out of tree bark.
- The sound of the Qeej instrument is produced by 8 copper blades located inside the instrument. When inhaling or exhaling, the copper blades vibrate to produce the desired sound. The musical notes produced are dependent upon variations in finger placement. The Qeej instrument is unique in that it plays spoken words. Every note or sound played by the Qeej instrument corresponds to a spoken word.
HMONG CULTURAL USES OF THE QEEJ INSTRUMENT
The three main cultural uses of the Hmong Qeej instrument are the following:
- Funeral Ritual
- Marriage Ceremony
- New Year’s Ceremony
The Qeej plays a much more important role in the Hmong funeral rituals than in Marriage or New Year’s ceremonies.
THE INTRINSIC ROLE OF THE QEEJ INSTRUMENT IN THE HMONG FUNERAL
The Qeej instrument plays an essential role in the traditional Hmong funeral ceremony. There are many Qeej songs that are incorporated in the Hmong funeral ceremony. These songs include the following:
- The Death Song – The death song is the most important of all Qeej songs. It is used to send the spirit of the deceased to join its ancestors in the afterlife.
- The Song to Resurrect the Horse – The purpose of this song is to resurrect a horse for the soul of the deceased so that he/she may have a horse to ride during their journey to the land of the ancestors.
- The Song to Give the Deceased Money – The purpose of this song is to give the incense and money that is burning during the funeral ceremony to the deceased person.
(Additional Qeej Songs in the Ceremony)
- The Song to Give the Deceased Animals – The purpose of this Qeej song is to give the animals that are used during the funeral ceremony to the deceased person. For example, if a cow was butchered at a farm and its meat was brought back to the funeral to be cooked into dishes, the Qeej player would perform this song to allow the deceased person to take the cow with them on their journey to the after-world.
- The Song to Give the Deceased An Army – As it is believed that on the journey to the after-world, the soul will encounter many wars, the purpose of this song is to give the soul an army for protection.
- The Song that Sends the Body to the Ground – This is the final Qeej song that is played during a funeral ceremony. The purpose of the song is to guide the body of the deceased to the ground to be buried.