History in Laos
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Literacy and L’Armee Clandestine: The Writings of the Hmong Military Scribes
By John Duffy
While histories of Hmong literacy development in Laos have focused on the role of village schools, the arrival of missionary Christianity, and the development of various Hmong religious alphabets, one site for Hmong literacy development has been consistently overlooked: L’Armee Clandestine, or the Hmong “Secret Army.” This article examines literacy development in the Hmong military, looking at the writings of Hmong military scribes. The article discusses how 1) literacy skills taught in other contexts, such as Laotian public schools, were further developed in the Hmong military, 2) a selected number of Hmong men were introduced through military service to English language and literacy, and 3) military scribes might appropriate literacy to address personal needs and aspirations.
When we learned how to write we were taught by the officers. They taught us that, if we were writing something to be telegraphed back to the main base, for example, if we did not have enough food, then we should write just a little bit, just the precise meanings. But we were also taught how to write a letter telling them that today we fought this many hours and this many of our soldiers died; or that we killed this many Communists in this area. These things, we went to learn about these things in the military. We then became good in writing.
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