Hmong - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Polygyny is permitted and two or three cowives may inhabit the same house. Owing to the high bride-wealth demanded at weddings, however, it is only the richer men who can afford to take a second wife. On marriage a woman is completely incorporated into her husband's descent group and will be worshiped by his descendants as an ancestor, retaining only her original clan name. The levirate is practiced among the wives of elder brothers. Marriages can be arranged by parents but are more often the result of the free choice of the spouses. Premarital sex is allowed, and marriages often take place at the first pregnancy. A rare form of marriage by capture also exists, usually in the case of parental disapproval of a match. On marriage a woman moves to her husband's home, except in uncommon instances where a family has only daughters or the groom cannot afford to pay the bride-wealth, in which case uxorilocal residence occurs. Divorce, which is very rare, is almost always initiated by men. The fact that the wife's natal family may be unwilling to return her bride-wealth acts as a sanction against divorce. Suicide may be the only recourse left to an unhappy wife, yet the threat of suicide can itself prove a powerful sanction.

Domestic Unit. The household is the main unit of economic cooperation and also the most fundamental unit of ritual worship. Households vary in composition from nuclear and stem to more extended types, since usually some time after marriage, or at the birth of a child, a son will move out with his family to form a new household. These may range in size from one to twenty-five members, including, for example, the children of several living or deceased siblings, and unmarried women of several generations. Such large households, however, are rare.

Inheritance. Shifting cultivation means that there is no land to inherit and little other heritable property. What wealth a family possesses will usually be divided equally among its sons. The house and its belongings, however, will usually go to the youngest son, who is expected to remain in the house to care for his aged parents.

Socialization. Literacy remains uncommon despite state efforts to educate Hmong children in Thai, Lao, Vietnamese, or Chinese. Attendance at rituals provides an important occasion for young boys to learn their traditional customs, while women are educated in the skills of embroidery and singing by their mothers or elder female siblings and friends. Fathers play a large part in teaching young children to speak, and other local languages are often acquired individually at a later stage. Participation in agricultural work by all capable members of the household leads to an early familiarization with subsistence skills.

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