Muong - Marriage and Family

Marriage. A traditional Muong marriage was normally arranged by the parents, often contrary to the wishes of the partners concerned, and sometimes years before puberty. The groom's family supplied about 100 kilograms of pork, an equal quantity of alcohol, and a few silver coins. The only way to avoid such a system was the simulated elopement, which was, of course, rare and socially despised. It is of little wonder that most of the Muong tragic stories in verse concentrate on the theme of lovers being torn apart by arbitrary acts of the patriarchal and feudal system. Today, although arranged marriages still predominate, the consent of the partners is obtained before finalizing the marriage. Marriage for love is increasing and so also is intermarriage with the Thai, Vietnamese, Tay, and Meo. Bride-price has been reduced considerably. Divorce, though rare, is increasing. Widow remarriage is encouraged. Marriage between cross cousins is allowed while that between parallel cousins is forbidden. The levirate and sororate have fallen into disuse.

Muong are monogamous by tradition. A second marriage is performed only if the first wife has proved sterile. Of course the nobility and the headmen had more wives, as well as concubines, than did commoners.

Domestic Unit. The domestic unit is comprised of one couple and their unmarried offspring. The patriarchal and patrilineal family offered a privileged position to males; the women had to live in absolute submission without any right to family property. It was the prerogative of the eldest son to inherit at least two-thirds of his parents' property. Even the seating arrangements within the Muong house reflect gender, age, and social ranking. Children, irrespective of sex, are always pampered. The status of women has increased both within and outside the family. They neither have to lacquer their teeth nor wear a chignon before reaching the age of puberty; they still wear a rectangular white kerchief on their heads as a cultural sign. The traditionally timid, shy, and reserved Muong woman is now hard to find. In fact during the Vietnam War women effectively handled all agricultural tasks that were once the preserve of males and also participated actively in the guerrilla units. The political transformation, educational expansion, occupational diversification, and changed cultural ethos raised their status, albeit in a relative sense.

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