It can be hard for a small national community to survive and preserve its culture. But the Hmong people manage to do both pretty effectively. Partially, that is thanks to their strict marriage traditions – some of them ensure there’s no incest, others help to pass old beliefs of the ancestors to the next generations. Anyway, this Chinese community has curious and useful wedding traditions, along with less logical and more superstitious ones. But all of them let us better understand the Hmong culture.
The Hmong peoples are one of the sub-groups of the Chinese Miao people. That’s why the largest number of Hmong groups can be found in China. But Vietnam and Laos are richly populated by the Hmong people as well. This ethnic group has a lot of curious and a little strange wedding traditions.
Who do they marry?
There are 18 different Hmong clans. Inside each clan, the members are usually related by blood. That’s why the youth are encouraged to marry outside their clan. Marriages inside the same community are forbidden. The Hmong people look for potential husbands and wives among other clans to avoid incest, which is totally understandable and logical.
But they are allowed to marry those relatives who belong to another clan. For example, if their father has wed a woman (their mother) from another clan, her relatives are available for marriage, no matter that they have the same blood on the mother’s side. Perhaps, this is allowed because the Hmongs are just a small ethnic group (a few millions of people, in total) and they don’t have much of a choice, as they usually marry inside the ethnic group. The Hmong people are allowed to wed the foreigners but are encouraged to marry members of their nation.
Kidnapping the bride
Among the Hmong people, it is traditional to kidnap the future bride. It is sort of an engagement ritual. The young man kidnaps a girl he loves and wants to marry and takes her home, where she spends three days with his family (the girl sleeps with his sisters or mother, no sexual contact between the future bride and groom are allowed).
After that, she decides whether she agrees to wed him or not – she always has a choice. At least these days. Today, it’s more of a symbolic act than real kidnapping. The couple plans the kidnapping together and in advance.
But it is traditional for her to act unapproachable and fake distress about being kidnapped – she can cry and say that she doesn’t want to be snatched by this man.
After spending 3 days in the groom’s house, they go together to her family and tell them that the marriage is due. The new couple brings presents for the bride’s family. They arrange a party to celebrate the engagement. At this party, the dowry is negotiated and the wedding is planned.
Though, we must warn you: if a foreigner decides to marry a Hmong girl, he’d better not kidnap her – otherwise, it might not be understood and the potential bride’s parents might go to the police.
Among the Hmong people, there are representatives of different religions. And their wedding ceremony can be organized in any style, including the traditional Christian or Catholic or Muslim marriage ceremony. So, don’t be surprised to see a Hmong wedding made in a typically Western style, etc.
Hmong wedding superstitions
There are some wedding customs and superstitions in the Hmong culture. For instance, when the bride leaves her parents’ house right before the marriage ceremony, she mustn’t look back. They believe that this can bring bad luck.
Also, at the wedding dinner, pepper and other bitter spices aren’t used to cook food – it is believed that such spices can bring bitterness to the couple’s married life.
Another interesting ritual demands that the bride gave all the gifts received from her ex-boyfriends or fiances to an elderly woman, who will destroy or throw away these things. This is a way for the bride to forget about all other men and build a life together with her husband.
In the past, Hmong men could have several wives if they were able to provide for them. A man could marry as many women as he could afford. But today, this tradition isn’t practiced anymore and every man has only one wife. Only in some rare remote communities, the tradition of polygamy may have survived.