Just as western society gives cards with little sayings, written words of congratulations, Hmong people tie strings. We call it “Khi Tes”. Tying strings onto the wrist is a tradition of not just Hmong people but other Asian cultures such as Lao and Thai. I believe Lao calls it “Baci”, (not sure on the spelling of that.)
The ceremony of tying strings at its’ best is done during weddings, graduations, birthdays, or other elaborate celebrations. That is when you’ll see many strings, however, one string can be used for small blessings for an individual. The individual may have just a single string as a sign of protection and the blessing is to overcome something in one’s life that recently occur such as sickness.
“Tying of Strings” isn’t just for one individual, often it’s a whole family.
At this ceremony, there’s a cow and chickens butchered to pay homage and later used for meals. The tail of the cow is saved, placed into a bowl with quickly boiled chickens and eggs. Prior to beginning the ceremony, the shaman will give a man at the table one of each item from this bowl. The men are to observe to make sure there are no discrepancies on the animal parts before he begins.
The shaman will ask,
“Nws puas zoo nkauj?” meaning, “Is it pretty?”
As each man agrees that the items they were given are good, the shaman proceeds.
Before the ceremony begins, many “white” cotton yarn strings have already been cut to the perfect length. The color white represents peace and happiness. It empowers the soul to give it strength. It also uplifts the soul and keeps the soul attached. The strings are placed onto a centerpiece that usually has a floral arrangement. It sits on top of a sturdy charger plate. The plate holds treats, boiled eggs, and fruits.
There are other types of “Khi Tes” that Hmong people do that involves other colored strings, but for this blog, I am only writing about the “White” strings. (Other string colors include red and black, a future post I’ll try to write when I learn a bit more)
The one who directs the process, usually a shaman, will say a few words, chants a blessing onto an individuals hands. The receiver will have his hands out, palms down as the shaman gently swipe the strings ontop the hands.
The sweep symbolizes cleanliness, clean beginnings, and removing negative energy. Once that is done, the receiver will then hold their hands out but palms up. The shaman proceeds with one more blessing then he’ll take a string and begin the “tying of strings” ceremony. The centerpiece and all the contents in it are now considered blessed.
The rest of the strings are handed out and everyone will participate and tie the receiver’s wrist. When tying the string, you should wish the receiver good health and spiritual well being. You are able to grab an item from the centerpiece to give to the receiver of the string. He or she will hold onto it while your wrist is tied. Many times, people will gift money and you hold onto it too while strings are being tied on.
You begin saying your blessing to them as you begin to tie, you may even just hold onto the string around their wrist as you say your blessing. You wish them well, say congratulations and bless them with words of health and wealth to them and for the individual’s family. Continue the blessing of words wishing that they will prosper and have good fortune. When your words of blessing are done, that moment is when you complete your knot to lock it in the string. Most times, you will have to double knot, some times triple knot the string to finish.
The elders who have done this for many years say their blessing almost like a poem. There’s usually lots to say and the young ones do it quietly. You should always say something to wish them well on the blessing, even if it is in English.
As everyone is finished tying, the shaman hands over the centerpiece and the bowl of with the animal parts for the blessed person to hold. It ends with the blessed person carrying these items into their bedrooms. They’ll be placed and remain there until the celebration is over. The items on the platter will then be passed out and shared with all guest.
And now we feast!