The Songs of Memory
project celebrates a special anniversary this year, as it marks a decade since the archival work first began in SE Asia in 2005. These past ten years have been rich and varied, filled with field trips to remote villages, researching, documenting through photos and films, writing, editing, collecting, mounting exhibitions, and speaking about the traditional music and ceremonies that sustain the mountain peoples of the Golden Triangle. It has been a remarkable, singular journey. To see more of the project’s unfolding, please visit past annual Newsletters: February 2011
, July 2012
, July 2013
, and July 2014
This year offered the Songs of Memory
project the opportunity to reach a new international community, that of academics and activists. It has been an honor and a joy to collaborate with Chiang Mai University through the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD), founded and directed by the inspiring “academic activist” Dr. Chayan Vaddhanaphuti. Two new exhibits were created for special conferences. The first exhibit, highlighting textiles that complemented photos of the people who wear them, was mounted for the conference, “Cloth, Culture and Development,” launched by the International Institute of Asian Studies with the aim of helping ensure the sustainability of traditional craftsmanship. The second, a photo exhibit, took place at a momentous event— the first ever International Conference on Burma/Myanmar Studies, “Connectivity, Changes and Challenges,” which drew a sizable number of colleagues from Burma among the 400 attendees.
Further afield, the Songs of Memory
project was introduced through a presentation and small exhibit at Chulalonghorn University, in Bangkok, at the conference, “Partnership for Change,” hosted by the Urban Research Forum which is spearheaded by a valued colleague and mentor, Dr. Kjell Skyllstad.
The major focus of this year, however, has been on the continued development of the Hmong Songs of Memory Book and Educational Film
, a work nearly three years in the making. The translations and manuscript have been completed. At present, the book design and film post-production work are moving apace. Look for a special announcement of the book launch by the end of the year.
1. Laos – December 2014
2. Thailand – December 2014, July 2015
1. Exhibition of Photographs and Textiles
From the Hands of the Hills:
Traditional Textiles from the Golden Triangle
International Institute of Asian Studies Conference
“Cloth, Culture, and Development”
Chiang Mai University
24-25 August 2014
2. Presentation and Exhibit
“Reach Back, Reach Deep, Reach Out”
“Partnership for Change”
Urban Research Forum
2-3 March 2015
3. Photographic Exhibit
“Hands in the Earth, Souls in the Heavens:
The Living Legacy of the Mountain Peoples of Burma/Myanmar”
First International Conference on Burma/Myanmar Studies
“Burma/Myanmar in Transition: Connectivity, Changes and Challenges”
Chiang Mai University
24-26 July 2015
4. Photographs Selected
Musical Instrument Museum
Permanent Exhibit on Music of the Peoples of the Golden Triangle
Excerpt from the upcoming book: Hmong Songs of Memory
Released in early 2016
“The importance of the Hmong shaman cannot be overestimated. To be a txiv neeb
is an overwhelming responsibility, one that few people seek. But when ancestral shaman spirits visit a living descendent in the dream world and cause him or her to endure hardship through prolonged physical or mental illness, there is little choice but to heed their summons. It is either a life of great responsibility in serving family and community or one of decline and death.
An apprentice shaman, armed with a predisposition for the divine and the support of a shaman teacher and mentor spirits, embarks on a long, challenging, and consuming journey that demands a lifetime commitment. Being a spiritual intermediary and healer is not an occasional pastime to be taken lightly. It is a rigorous lifework that requires a person to be on call at all times to all people. Even after death, the soul of a txiv neeb
bands with the immortal souls of all shaman ancestors to summon and guide future generations of shamans in dreams and trances. Once a shaman, always a shaman.
Because shamans possess a mystical ability to communicate with unseen beings and because they dedicate their lives to the well-being of members of the community, often with great physical sacrifice and spiritual risk, the Hmong hold txiv neeb
in the highest regard.
The Hmong also recognize shamans as the primary living link to all who have gone before. When txiv neeb txiv yaig
perform ua neeb ua yaig,
they embody thousands of years of collective wisdom, beliefs, and spirituality. Hmong shamans faithfully carry out ritual enactments, year after year, each time creating an otherworldly experience in a highly charged environment. Such an experience offers all those present a subliminal—and sublime—sense of grounding, centering, and belonging that transcends all others.”
Hmong Songs of Memory
The Songs of Memory project could never have thrived these past ten years without the steadfast belief of so many, who recognize the importance of preserving traditional intangible culture and support the work I have been doing to contribute to this end. So, with voice out loud, I thank you all most gratefully.
I would especially like to mention the following for their generosity of spirit during this past year:
Leslie and David Bosch
Frankel Family Foundation
Lena and Brian Young
RCSD, Chiang Mai University
Now to you all, may your souls and spirits protect you as you move on your path. I look forward to our next encounter, personally or virtually. Warmest wishes, Victoria