IndexAmericasNorth-America Non-NativesNorth American Hmong


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Scott (1986)[1][178] gives an account of Hmong courtship:


“The prospective partners were usually relatively young, the girl being around fourteen and the boy, around eighteen. The formal marriage procedure was initiated by the boy’s father and older married brothers, or, if they were not available, by other closely related male agnates, who would make a formal request in his behalf to the prospective bride’s parents. In most cases, the girl had already given the boy her consent during a clandestine courtship, which usually involved sexual relations. These liasons, if not openly condoned, were expected and even tacitly accepted as a means of ensuring happy marriages, as long as they were kept out of public view, and especially out of that of the girl’s parents and older brothers” ([p79-80]).


It also includes songs: “Hmong learn to sing the songs by watching and imitating the other Hmong who know them. The songs are related to courtship. One Hmong interviewed said, “When a boy sings a song to a girl, she feels happy and sings it back to him. When he hears her sing it back to him he is very happy. He will again sing the song to the girl. They can sing the song all day long” ” (Ukapatayasakul, 1983)[2][179]. Word has it that the cultural transmission of these songs is eroding in America: “Over the last couple of years, I have heard complaints from elders that the young people don’t know the love songs anymore. They don’t know the appropriate courtship, marriage and funeral songs” (Weinstein-Shr, 1987:[p117])[3][180].


Donnelly (1994)[4][181] has made a careful analysis of Hmong courtship in terra ignota, Seattle, Washington. Traditionally,


“In Laos, getting married for the first time generally involved courting, choosing a mate, and an elopement (called catch-hand marriage) with the girl staying at the boy’s house for three days; or alternatively the boy making a formal request to the girl’s family, raising the bride wealth, contract negotiations” (p114).


After resettlement, adaptations were, in one way, practical:


“The new American environment clearly produces many stylistic changes in Hmong courtship. A boy can no longer softly play the mouth harp outside the house wall where a girl lies sleeping, because apartment walls are made of solid materials, not woven bamboo or unchinked boards. He cannot get her attention inconspicuously at night, nor can he slip into the house to wake her as before, because now the door is locked—so elopements no longer start from home as they traditionally did. Girls’ Hmong-style costumes (worn mainly now at New Year celebrations) may be bought or partly bought, so the quality of workmanship no longer necessarily expresses the diligence and skill of the girl. The youth’s automobile has become a vital tool of courtship”.


Other peculiarities are more structural:


“In America, the Hmong adolescents I knew did not go out on dates. A girl may go with her friends to watch a soccer game if a particular boy is playing (as I saw in Seattle), or a boy may spend a lot of time visiting relatives on his mother's side if a particular girl lives there (as I saw in the Midwest). Usually, in the presence of family members, neither speaks to the other out of the ordinary way. Signals of mutual attraction between these eligible Hmong adolescents are still hidden from the older generation, or if parents observe such signs, it is still considered very bad form to take notice, as it was in Laos. This reserve between generations helps put a face of free choice on courtship, but also made it hard to observe. […] Direct courtship (that is, conversations and touching) still appeared to last typically only a few days, with the boy initiating the contact. Before talking seriously to the girl, he still might go to his older male relatives, who would feel obliged to help him pay the bride wealth (nge mis). This contribution let them influence his choice, but they would not feel they could definitively reject any girl. This was unlike the situation in Laos, where many fathers had more power, especially since boys married before they were capable of supporting a family”.


Schooling has an impact on traditional definitions of social maturity:


“Besides a lack of direct observation, another problem is that the practices of Hmong courtship are changing very rapidly, especially as young Hmong stay unmarried long enough to enter college, and educated girls make plans for careers. Even so, I can suggest one immediate structural change, following upon the observation that while Hmong girls attended American schools, educated girls quickly fell into disfavor as wives, since traditional parents wanted obedient daughters-in-law and urged their sons to choose compliant girls (often fitting their own preferences). This immediately widened the age gap between males who often waited to finish community college before marrying and girls who wed before finishing high school. Most Hmong girls in America are married by age sixteen—in one study of Hmong in San Diego, all were married by this age (Rumbaut and Weeks, 1986:p438)[[5][182]]. Many Hmong still define social maturity for girls in terms of passing puberty, but education is entering the definition of maturity for boys”.


Lynch (1996:p260)[6][183]:


“The youthful focus of the New Year is primarily due to its importance as a courtship arena. The New Year in Laos was the time of year when families gathered together to bring young people into contact with potential mates from other villages. In the American context, courtship is still a primary function of the celebration. The courtship ritual ball toss game [[7][184]] played at the New Year in Laos is still played in the United States and provides a way for young people to get acquainted. As a ball is tossed back and forth, young girls and boys get to know each other. In Laos they sang a style of call and response poetry. While this is still sometimes practiced in the United States, many of the young people no longer know how to do it” (cf., Lynch, 1995:p116-7)[8][185].


One reporter states that Hmong parents blame the occurrence of early marriages on the American ideals of freedom and independence; opportunities provided by schools for young people to meet; sex education; television and peer example (Hammond 1988)[9][186]. However, “[r]ather than seeing these factors as encouraging early marriage per se, other Hmong justify seeking young brides as a way of protecting young women from these influences. One opinion frequently offered by concerned young men cites several instances in which wives have left their husbands and families for a new life with an American man; they feel that working outside the home and too much education make women too independent. It’s better to marry a girl while she’s still young and innocent, so you can teach her to think correctly” (Peterson, 1990:[p160])[10][187].













Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1][178] Scott, G. M., Jr. (1986) Migrants without Mountains: The Politics of Sociocultural Adjustment among the Lao Hmong Refugees in San Diego. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms

[2][179] Ukapatayasakul, B. B. (1983) Hmong Refugee Economic Adjustment in a California Community. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International

[3][180] Weinstein-Shr, G. (1987) From Mountaintops to City Streets: An Ethnographic Investigation of Literacy and Social Process among the Hmong of Philadelphia. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International

[4][181] Donnelly, N. D. (1994) Changing Lives of Refugee Hmong Women. Seattle: University of Washington Press

[5][182] Rumbaut, R. G. & Weeks, J. R. (1986) Fertility and Adaptation: Indochinese Refugees in the United States, Int Migration Rev 20,2:428–65

[6][183] Lynch, A. (1996) Transmission and reconstruction of gender through dress: Hmong American New Year rituals, Clothing & Textiles Res J 14,4:257-66

[7][184] See Anderson, C. J. (1986) A Collection of Hmong Games. Master’s paper, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

[8][185] Lynch, A. (1995) Hmong American New Year rituals: generational bonds through dress [eHRAF] 111-20

[9][186] Hammond, R. (1988) Young Love: Teen Marriage Threatens the Progress of Minnesota’s Hmong, Twin Cities Reader, June 15–21

[10][187] Peterson, S. N. (1990) From the Heart and the Mind: Creating Paj Ntaub in the Context of Community. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International