Hmong Wedding Ceremony
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, 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: the girl is allowed to refuse to go. It should be noted that this is an old tradition that is rarely practiced today in many Western Nations. The parents will not be told, but an envoy from the boy’s clan will be sent to inform them of the whereabouts of their daughter and her safety. (Fi xov) When the bride arrives at the groom’s house, the head of the household will perform a blessing ritual for the ancestors to ask them to accept her into the household. (Lwm qaib) She will not be allowed to visit anyone’s house for three days after this. After three days, the parents of the groom will prepare the first wedding feast for the newlywed couple (Hu plig nyab tshiab thaum puv peb tag kis). Then, the couple will return to the house of the bride’s family at the end of the first wedding feast. The family of the bride will prepare 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 abride price from the groom’s family to the bride’s family. The amount is settled by negotiation of the elders of both families prior to the engagement and usually is paid in bars of silver or livestock. Today, it is also often settled in monetary terms. After the wedding, the bride will be given farewell presents and three sets of new clothes by her parents. She will also be given food for the journey. The couple leaves the bride’s house and return to the husband’s house where another party is held in celebration. (Tiam mej koob) In the 21st century, Hmong people who practice Christianity no longer follow traditional Hmong weddings; they often opt for a modern westernized wedding.
When a husband dies, it is his clan’s responsibility to look after of 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 (beside 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 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 spiritial 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.)
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 marriage dowry 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 committedadultery, 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 can not 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.