Statement from the National Endowment for the Arts on the Death of Hmong Musician Bua Xou Mua, Recipient of a 1985 NEA National Heritage Fellowship

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of Bua Xou Mua, a Hmong musician and 1985 NEA National Heritage Fellow.

Bua Xou Mua was born in 1915 in Ban Whoi Na, a village in northeastern Laos where his family had lived for generations. At the age of 15, he began studying the oral texts of his people, the Hmong, with an uncle who also taught him to play the gaeng bamboo mouth organ, an instrument unique to Hmong culture. The Hmong had no written language until the 1950s; therefore history was transmitted primarily in an oral tradition by highly respected figures such as Bua. He raised a large family and became known throughout the area as a legal and religious practitioner. In 1960, he became chief of his clan of about 400 people. In the 1960s, Bua and two of his sons were recruited into the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's secret war against the communist Pathet Lao. After the United States pulled out of Laos in 1973, Bua, his wife, and two of their children attempted to flee their homeland to avoid communist reprisals. In 1976, they made a ten-day journey across mountains where they ran out of rice and were robbed of money and jewelry before reaching the Thai border. They spent two years in a refugee camp with other Hmong people before immigrating to the United States in 1978 and settling in Portland, Oregon, where Bua worked hard to maintain his cultural traditions. In 1980, he sang and danced in a public concert involving Asian refugees in the Portland area and received an enthusiastic response. Later, he participated in an apprenticeship program and worked with young Hmong. Bua assumed the responsibility of explaining the unfamiliar ways of Southeast Asia to the schoolchildren of Portland, presenting Hmong music and dance in neighborhoods where otherwise the arts of his people would never be known.

The NEA joins many others in the Hmong community and beyond in mourning Bua Xou Mua's death while celebrating his life and devotion to Hmong traditional arts.

Visit the NEA's website for a full bio on Bua Xou Mua.


Liz Auclair