Every odd year or so, some Hmong children are born with blond hair. Casual observers will wrongly assume these children have albinism. Though Hmong children can also be born with albinism, in general, Hmong people who are born light-haired are not necessarily albino.
The blond hair of Hmong children will generally fade into a light honey brown as they grow older. However, there are exceptions to the rule, some Hmong children remain blond their entire lives. In this case, some will choose to dye their blond hair black in order to conform to the norm. Unlike people raised in Western culture where blond hair is the highest achievement of beauty and glamour, traditionally, Hmong people prefer black hair and fair skin and do not care much for blond hair.
According to geneticists, there is a particular Hmong blond gene that is a very specific gene only found in the Hmong. This Hmong blond gene has very little to do with the Caucasian blond gene. It’s completely different from the Caucasian one, thus contrary to assumptions, blond Hmong children are not the result of the mixing of the two groups of people.
In ancient wars between the Han-Chinese and Hmong people, the blond haired Hmong fighters were easily spotted and picked off to attack. Meanwhile, in Southeast Asia, blond haired Hmong children are coveted by other ethnic groups and often targeted for kidnappings.
In other Asian ethnicities, there are no blond genes, so it is a very unique gene among the Hmong group. If a Hmong individual married a person of Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean ancestry, there is no chance their child would be born with fair hair because throughout history, none of those other Asian groups have ever developed blond genes. However, even if a Hmong individual, let’s say, married a blond Caucasian person, they would not automatically have a child born with blond hair because, as mentioned, the Hmong blond gene and the Caucasian blond gene are utterly different. Only marriage between two Hmong individuals who both carry the Hmong blond trait would result in a blond haired Hmong child.
Pictured are Hmong school children with their Hmong teacher. In northern Vietnam, the Hmong number up to 1 million, but the quality of education is poor and malnutrition high. 85 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Education is key to breaking this cycle of poverty, yet linguistic barriers mean students do not get the education they deserve. School is taught in Vietnamese, a language many Hmong children have very little grasp of.
In recent years, the Ministry of Education has introduced bilingual education to a number of schools across the country and is seeing marked improvements. Across three provinces in Viet Nam, where this program has been introduced, 68 per cent of mother-tongue based students receive ‘excellent’ results in math, compared to just 28 per cent of students who are learning in Vietnamese.
Surprisingly, these students’ grasp of the Vietnamese language has also improved. By teaching in Hmong and introducing Vietnamese gradually, these children will have opportunities their parents did not and it will ensure their cultural traditions remain.
Hmong children gather to compete in a game of Chinese jump rope. Chinese jump rope is a rope skipping game that is popular around the globe. Central European children call it gummitwist, while kids in the UK and New Zealand call it “Elastics”.