Jim Wilson/The New York Times
For three days, as Hmong custom has it, his family and friends would have mourned in high-pitched chants, feasted on freshly slaughtered beef and burned a giant pile of paper money to buy his soul into the spirit world.
But Gen. Vang Pao was no plain Hmong elder, and his death last month at age 81 has brought forth no ordinary grief. He is known to his people as the general, the hero of the Central Intelligence Agency’s long-ago secret war in the jungles of Laos, a man who was leaving behind 25 children, 68 grandchildren and an uprooted nation of Hmong refugees who regard him as something near a king.
So his funeral — six days and nights, with 10 cows slaughtered and stir-fried each day — has become a send-off for the ages.
It began last Friday, his body borne on a horse-drawn carriage through the streets of downtown Fresno, throngs of grieving Hmong lining the way. Scottish bagpipers played “The Green Hills of Tyrol” and two T-28 planes, the aircraft piloted by Hmong guerrilla fighters in the Vietnam War, flew overhead.