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Reviving the 18th Century Hmong Flintlock

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

This is a photo of Soob Tooj Yaj, taken in 1957. Alongside his Hmong knife, he also carries a flintlock design distinct to Hmong gunsmiths. However, by the time this photo was taken, flintlocks had already been largely replaced by more modern firearms—even within all but the most rural of Hmong communities. Soob Tooj Yaj would later move to France, following the Vietnam war; an unfortunate continuation of the Hmong diaspora that has lead to the loss of many of our antiques, family heirlooms, and perhaps most unfortunate, cultural knowledge.

Starting in 2020, I sought to retrace and revive the Hmong flintlock, with a few goals in mind:

  1. Trace the whereabouts of remaining Hmong antiques and return them to the Hmong community.

  2. Collect 50 antique Hmong flintlocks.

  3. Find and meet the last living makers of Hmong flintlocks.

In the past three years, I've learned a lot on this journey, including how to make a traditional Hmong flintlock myself and how to make gunpowder, including identifying the traditional tree species Hmong people most commonly used—both of which can be seen in my documentary Among Mountains. Most importantly to me however, is that I've been lucky enough on this journey, to travel all across Southeast Asia, in search of these remaining Hmong antiques—and it's been a journey that's nurtured my perspective and understanding of the Hmong spirit of resilience.

I'm launching Gaur to share all that I've learned in the past few years, to return Hmong antiques to the Hmong community, and of course...from a very selfish be able to continue collecting the very best antiques for myself haha! Antique flintlocks in your hands by October 2023! In the meantime, please feel free to send me a message/email/call if you're looking for something in particular—I am traveling for several more months in Southeast Asia...

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