Religious Beliefs. Kmhmu traditional religion is marked by belief in a pantheon of hrôôy (spirits) who include ancestor spirits, household spirits, village spirits, locality spirits, rice spirits, and spirits associated with natural phenomena, animals, and dragons. Each person has hrmaal (soul-spirits) who are inclined to flight at times of turmoil or transition. For at least the last century, Kmhmu villages have adopted Buddhism, often without completely forgetting their traditional religion. Protestants undertook missionary activity from the nineteenth century, and Catholics from 1945; adherence to Christianity usually required giving up most traditional beliefs. Kmhmu who have migrated to the United States and France usually practice Christianity, although some maintain those beliefs that can still be practiced in their new circumstances.
Religious Practitioners. Most Kmhmu are able to perform common ceremonies and some rituals; more elaborate rituals require the expertise of a specialist. Shamans who have undergone elaborate long-term training may diagnose spirit-caused illnesses and perform shamanic ceremonies to cure them.
Ceremonies. Ceremonies and rituals are required to honor the hrôôy spirits, to forestall the danger they might cause if offended, to pacify spirits when they are angered, and to restore harmony when the spirits create trouble. Wristtying ceremonies and other ceremonies of reintegration are required to call a hrmaal back to the body or prevent its flight.
Arts. Kmhmu have rich traditions of verbal art, including myths of the origin of the group and of each totemic clan, humorous and heuristic tales, prayers, riddles, play languages, and sung verse. Kmhmu song features an elaborate poetic structure of reverse parallelism that is ubiquitous among the Kmhmu and rarely known among other groups. Kmhmu music features a number of flutes, reed flutes, mouth organs, Jew's harps, and percussion instruments, almost all made of bamboo. The bronze drum is important as a symbol of wealth and status, in ceremonies and rituals, and as a musical instrument.
Medicine. Knowledge of traditional medicinal plants and herbs is widely held; they are gathered in the forests or may be cultivated in village gardens. Shamanic healing is practiced only by highly trained specialists.
Death and Afterlife. After death, a long narrative song is sung by the survivors, guiding the deceased's spirit to its resting place. If this cannot be done properly, or the spirit is hungry, it may return to haunt the survivors with its plaintive demands. The spirits of those who die accidentally are especially likely to return to trouble their survivors.