Clan groups are exogamous: that is, Hmong may not marry within their own clan group; a marriage partner must be found from another clan.
For example, a Xiong may not marry another Xiong.
However, they are allowed to marry blood relatives from their mother side (Neejtsa), for example the children of a brother and sister can marry because they would be from different clans.
Traditionally, when a boy wants to marry a girl, he will make his intentions clear, and will "snatch" (zij) her during day light or night at any opportunity that is appropriate. This is traditionally only a symbolic kidnapping.
Before kidnapping her, the boy must first give a gift to the girl whom he wants to marry. After a couple of days, the boy can then kidnap the girl. If the boy has never given a gift to the girl, she is allowed to refuse and go back home with any family member who comes to save her.
It should be noted that this is an old tradition that is rarely practiced today. The parents are not notified at the time of the kidnapping, but an envoy from the boy's clan is sent to inform them of the whereabouts of their daughter and her safety (fi xov).
This envoy tells the girl's family the boy's background and asks what the girl's background is. For example, the envoy may tell the girl's family that the groom is from a Stripe Hmong family from Luang Prabang, Laos; the bride's parents reply that they are Moob Leej/Mong Leng from Nong Het, Xieng Khouang, Laos.
Before the new couple enters the groom's house, the father performs a blessing ritual, asking the ancestors to accept her into the household (Lwm qaib). The head of the household moves the chicken in a circular motion around the couple's head. The girl is not allowed to visit anyone's house for three days after this.
After three days or more, the parents of the groom prepare the first wedding feast for the newlywed couple (hu plig nyab tshiab thaum puv peb tag kis). The wedding is usually a two-day process. The couple returns to the house of the bride's family at the end of the first wedding feast and spends the night in preparation for the next day.
On the second day, the family of the bride prepares a second wedding feast at their home, where the couple will be married (Noj tshoob). Hmong marriage customs differ slightly based on cultural subdivisions within the global Hmong community, but all require the exchange of a bride price from the groom’s family to the bride’s family.
The bride price is compensation for the new family taking the other family's daughter, as the girl's parents are now short one person to help with chores. (The price of the girl can vary based on her value or on the parents.) The elders of both families negotiate the amount prior to the engagement and is usually paid in bars of silver or livestock.
Today, it is also often settled in monetary terms. The usual price of a Hmong bride today in America would just depends on the parents or the value of the bride but mostly parents made the wages but some wages are up to$5 grand.
Before the bride and the grooms visit the bride's family, she must wear the grooms’ traditional clothes example: a Hmong Leng girl married to a Stripe Hmong boy she must wear the stripe clothes to visit her families. After the wedding, the bride will be given farewell presents and sets of new clothes by her parents.
Also she will be wearing her birth families side traditional clothes example: the bride visits her parents by wearing stripe traditional clothes but when she is going back to the grooms place she must wear her Hmong Leng outfits. She will also be given food for the journey.
When departing, the bride's family members would offer drinks (beer) to the groom until he can no longer drink. An example of this is, an older brother or uncle of the bride would offer the drink and before doing so, he would say a couple of words to his soon to be brother-in law/son-in law that since he (the groom) now has their sister/daughter, he must promise to treat her well and never hit her, etc. Finishing the drink is proof of the groom keeping his promise. Most of the time, the groom would bring his brothers to come help him drink.
However, the groom would never leave without being drunk.
When the couple leaves the bride's house and return to the husband's house, another party is held to thank the negotiator(s), the groomsman and brides maid (tiam mej koob).
During the wedding, there are many rules a bride must follow. Here are some examples and facts:
When leaving the bride's house, during that process, the bride must never look back for it will make her miss her family dearly.
During the feast, no pepper dish can be served for it'll make the bride and groom's marriage life bitter.
At some point during the wedding, an elder would come ask the bride if she has any old gift(s) from past boyfriend(s). If she does, she must give them those gifts and they will return the gifts to her past boyfriend(s).
There is a saying that if a bride does not give her past boyfriends' gifts back, if he still really loves her and dies early, he'll come haunt her babies, which will make her babies cry a lot.
The brides maid's job is to make sure the bride doesn't run off with a guy because way back in history, many girls were forced to marry and would elope with their boyfriends.
Because the price of a bride is so high(depends on the parents), the groom's clan helps pitch in to help with the exchange of his wife. Afterwards, both the bride and groom must pay them back. However, according to different clans, they can do payments too.
In the 21st century, Hmong people who practice Christianity may follow traditional Hmong weddings; however, some ritual such as "lwm qaib" and "hu plig" are no longer practiced. Some of them follow both traditional Hmong weddings and westernized weddings.
When a husband dies, it is his clan's responsibility to look after the widow and children. The widow is permitted to remarry, in which case she would have two choices: she may marry one of her husband's younger brothers/ younger cousins (never to the older brothers) or she can marry anyone from the outside clan (besides her own).
If she chooses to marry an extended member from her deceased, husband's clan, her children will continue to be a part of that clan.
If she chooses to remarry outside of her deceased husband's clan, her children are not required to stay with the clan unless a member of the clan (usually the deceased husband's brother or a male cousin of the same last name) is willing to take care of the children. (This is mostly the practice today in many Western Nations).
If no one from the deceased husband's clan is willing to raise the children, they will follow their mother into her second marriage. Once the children go with their mother to be a part of their stepfather's family, a spiritual ceremony may take place.
The children can choose to belong to their stepfather's clan (by accepting his surname, his family spirits, and relatives)or they can choose to remain with their original clan (the family, spirits, and relatives of their deceased father.) Most of the time whether the mother or children like it or not, the clan would keep the son(s).
Polygamy is not generally considered the ideal form of marriage among the Hmong, although it has been documented. However, it is increasingly rare among those Hmong who have migrated to Western nations.
Divorce was rare in traditional Hmong society, however it is becoming more prevalent in westernized Hmong communities. If a husband and wife decide to divorce, the couple's clans will permit a divorce but will evaluate the situation fairly.
If just the wife wants to divorce her husband without any firm grounds, the bride price must be returned to the husband’s family, as the wife will be the one choosing to leave the household.
If just the husband wants to divorce his wife without any firm grounds, the husband will have to come up with some money to send the wife back to her family with all the children, as the husband will be the one choosing to leave the household.
By tradition, the man and the woman have equal custody of all the children. If it is determined the wife had committed adultery, the husband will get custody of all the children; with the dowry and an additional fine.
However, if it is determined the husband had committed adultery or married a second wife and the wife cannot continue being part of the family, she will have the option to leaving her husband without paying back the dowry. Also, if the husband allows, she can take her children with her. If a divorced man dies, custody of any male children passes to his clan group.
Travel tip shared by Lanh Nguyen