Hmong - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Hmong social organization is based on the kinship system, divided into patrilineal clans that define affinal relations, and subdivided into local lineages formed out of individual households. The ritual head of the lineage is its oldest living member; ranking within the lineage is on the basis of age seniority, but is largely egalitarian.

Political Organization. There is no political organization above the village level in traditional Hmong society. An assembly of male lineage elders makes local decisions and discusses problems or arbitrates disputes. At these assemblies women also take informal part. The ritual head of the lineage and its shamans enjoy the most prestige and authority in decision-making activities. In many areas local headmen of villages are appointed to deal with external affairs. These men do not necessarily enjoy full authority over their own lineages and cannot represent other lineages in the same village, but tend to be those most skilled in dealing with outsiders.

Social Control. Social control is largely maintained through the importance attached to traditional customs that distinguish the Hmong from other ethnic groups and affirm the unity of the lineage. The knowledge of these customs tends to be the preserve of lineage elders and shamans. Gossip and occasionally accusations of witchcraft also act as mechanisms of social control. The authority of a father (who controls bride-wealth payments) over his sons, and of men over women, is a fundamental feature of this system.

Conflict. Any member of the lineage has the right to summon the lineage to war, although in practice it is the views of the eldest that will be the most respected. In case of conflicts with other ethnic groups or emergencies, the Hmong send out scouting parties in pairs from each village to report on the situation. Conflicts within Hmong society generally take place between local lineages and rarely involve related clan members. The great majority of these disputes concerns marriages and bride-wealth payments, children born out of wedlock, and extramarital affairs. Conflicts over land and the adoption of Christianity also occur, but these are rare.

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