Tomorrow an evil spirit will devour the sun and darkness will envelope North America before noon my time. Hmong folks historically pull out their drums–pounding away–to scare the spirit.
“Dab noj hnub,” is the phrase for “solar eclipse.” It literally means “evil spirit devouring the sun.” Before science explained this natural phenomenon, a solar eclipse was a scary thing to witness. Many ancient civilizations, Hmong included, thought the sun was being swallowed. It represented calamity, whether to the present ruler or the village or anyone who looked up at the sky.
I first heard about an eclipse and dab noj hnub when I was in elementary school. When I brought home a note about an eclipse happening the following day, my mother and grams told me not to look up into the sky. “Because you have to go to school tomorrow, you must not look directly into the sky. And because you are a girl, you have to be extra careful not to do so because the spirit in the sky may cause you to not be able to have children.” The next day, I went to school, being mindful that I do not look directly into the sky because I was afraid of what would happen.
The forbidden act of looking into the sky has a very simple explanation. Looking directly into the sun can severely damage your retinas and you can go blind. But because the Hmong could not explain that during ancient times, it is explained through the superstition of it being bad luck (losing your eyesight is clearly bad). Many Hmong folks were told to stay inside. If they couldn’t avoid it, then to not look directly at the sky. If you’re a person with a uterus, then it’s most important that you stay inside.
There is a Hmong origin myth about the the sun and moon and why we have solar and lunar eclipses. It is the story of Nkauj Hnub and Nraug Hli; a very tragic tale of a pair of lovers separated forever and only to see and embrace each other for a moment a couple times a year.
Be safe tomorrow if you are planning on viewing the eclipse. Wear appropriate glasses and do not stare at the sun with your naked eye. Happy dab noj hnub day!