Journal of Undergraduate Research


conversion, continuity, change, Vietnam, Fong


Family, Home, and Social Sciences




The deceased was damned to hell and there was nothing to be done about it. Of this, Fong was quite sure. It was surprising to hear such a simple pronouncement, which rendered the typically complicated set of Hmong funerary rites—whether ‘traditional’ or Christian—effectively useless.

We met Fong1 in the summer of 2015 in a small Hmong hamlet not far Sapa, a town in the mountains of the northern reaches of Vietnam. Fong was the pastor of his small village, a group of Christians that converted through the missionary efforts of covert foreign missionaries about ten years ago. Fong took us to a Christian funeral, in the which the man who died was not Christian, but the rest of his family was. Fong decided that because the man wasn’t Christian that their typical Christian funeral rites wouldn’t help because the man didn’t believe in Jesus Christ. However, he also told us that performing the traditional rites would be sinful. According to Fong, this meant that the man was damned to hell and there was nothing they could do to save his soul. The funeral which they did hold was for the descendants, not for the man’s soul, and the rituals were abbreviated and short when compared with what Fong said their funerals were typically like. Fong didn’t even call us to let us know that they decided to move up the time when they were interring the body, so we missed it entirely—Fong thought that it just wasn’t worth our time.

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