The history of the Hmongs
The following is an except from our market book Salamanca Market, A short history, which was written in 2014 by Bernard Lloyd.
The Hmong people originated in China, but they have been on the move, pushed south, for hundreds of years. Their journey is difficult to trace because their story was told, passed on, but not written down. We know they arrived in Tasmania in the late 1980s from Thailand, refugees from the mountains of Laos where they were being persecuted for aiding America during the Vietnam War.
In Tasmania, they resettled around Moonah. They were a community of about 300 people, traditionally pledged to each other. At English, they were beginners, but at horticulture they were masters. In the late 1980s they started coming to Salamanca Market to sell the excess of the prodigious vegetable output grown in their backyards.
They also sold brightly coloured embroidered cloths depicting scenes of Hmong harvesting, courting and religious ceremonies. Some had little stitched streams of black bombs falling from B52 bombers onto these scenes of rural life. Called Paj ntaub, these story-cloths began in modern times, drawn on paper by Hmong men anxious to retain the memory of traditional Hmong stories as well as to portray their personal travails and flight. In refugee camps, Hmong women asked the men to draw on fabric so that they could stitch the stories.
When the Hmong first came to the market, they were selling their produce from an existing stallholder’s site, but sub-letting was prohibited. Working with the Migrant Resource Centre, the Council saw the importance and value of the Hmong community as part of the market and as a result, found an empty trading space for them alongside the main market corridor in 1995.
In the early days, there were up to forty Hmong stallholders. Many moved to Queensland but some stayed and a few have even returned. Today, about ten stalls, mostly belonging to the large Xiong (Xyooj) family clan continue to grow and sell vegetables from well-established market gardens out of Hobart. They grow a lot, but they are also shrewd wholesale vegetable buyers.
The Hmong community was placed on Salamanca Market’s Honour Roll at the fortieth anniversary celebration. They are one of the market’s best-known attractions for many locals who come to the market solely for the Hmong’s succulent wares.