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The Meo

rai dws the meoSeries Disappearing World Series
Director Brian Moser, Jacques Lemoine
Country/Production UK
Release 1972
Length 52 mins
Format Colour / DVD or VHS / PAL / All region
Location China, South-East Asia / Asia
Ethnic Group Meo

Order No RAI-200.34
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Over the last three thousand years the Meo (Miao or Hmong) have migrated south from north and central China to avoid oppression and protect their way of life. Today they live in scattered mountain villages in south China and south-east Asia; and the 250,000 of them who live in the Kingdom of Laos have suffered greater losses, relative to their numbers, in the Indo-China wars than any other single group. In 1972, when this film was made, the Vietnam war was still at its peak; therefore it is not surprising that a fairly straightforward ethnographic account is combined with a more journalistic analysis of the political situation. Indeed it would be difficult to approach a discussion of the Meo without such an emphasis, and the review in RAIN (listed below) is a useful supplement to this. In effect, the film's narrative divides into two parts: first we are introduced to a village which managed to remain neutral and avoid the worst effects of the war (which was why the anthropologist chose it for his fieldwork). The daily life and material culture of the Meo people are shown as they sow rice using slash-and-burn agricultural methods, distil opium for sale and entertainment, and discuss with the anthropologist their fear of conscription and its effects on other villages. Two rituals are shown ( the shaman who performed them was the close friend of the anthropologist) one to banish a nightmare, the other to exorcise the spirit of a man which haunts the house of the brother who accidentally killed him while out hunting. In the second part of the film we see the Meo who live in American-run refugee camps (which is the majority of them), far removed form the village life of their fellows. The interviews with some of the Meo pilots who fly American B28 bombers over their homeland emphasise the tragic absurdities of such a war; for these Meo are not sure exactly who the `enemy' are, each one giving vague answers to the interviewer's questions. M. Barber and J. Lemoine 1977. `Two Letters from Indo-China'. RAIN, 21, pp. 1–6. W. Geddes, 1976. Migrants of the Mountains: The Cultural Ecology of Blue Miao (Hmong Njua) of Thailand. Clarendon, Oxford.

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