In a fairly recent report, done between March and April 2010, Nguyen et al. comes up with a report entitled “Aspirations and Realities of Love, Marriage and Education Among Hmong Women.” It examines marriage practices amongst the Hmong by dissecting stereotypes and conducting interviews with a group of women in Vietnam. The interviews were among women of different age groups and educational backgrounds, some drop outs and some attending school, some young, and some old. Researches wanted to see if any of the rumored stereotypes were true, such as “wife snatching”, and to see if the Hmong were really as “backwards” as other ethnic groups claimed them to be, such as Americans and the Kinh, which is the leading ethnic group in Vietnam.
The research cleared up some these rumors, but it also confirmed some already known facts about the Hmong’s view on marriage and kinship. One thing that was clearly false and misinterpreted was the notion of “wife snatching”. It is when a woman is forced into a marriage. She is practically kidnapped into the husband’s home. The women in the interviews said they had heard of that, but were not victims of it themselves. Most were able to choose their own husbands. In fact, traditionally, the Hmong do have what is called zij poj niam or consenting, pre-arranged bride capture. Nguyen(2010:S206) states, “Hmong women confirmed that within the more common zij poj niam, whereby couples have a generally rapid, mutually agreed courtship and obtain the parent’s consent for marriage, there is often an element of abduction, but in the form of voluntary play-acting.” Hmong traditions of marriage are changing despite what other people may say or perceive to be true. Nguyen (2010:S205) confirms that, “Marriages based on mutual love with parents approval (xav sib yuav), which was the most common procedure reported by interviewees.”
The Hmong still value bride price in their culture. Of all the women in the study, Nguyen (2010:S208) finds that, “Nearly all of the women interviewed (55/58; 94.8%) reported that their family received bride price payment on the occasion of their marriage.” It is so important that, “…some families sell land to ‘buy’ a wife for their son.” (Nguyen 2010:S209) The women had no issue with the custom and seemed to agree with it. “…participants did not consider bride price as something that needs to be eradicated. No one appeared to question bride price as something that negatively affects the status of women.” (Nguyen 2010:S209) The general outcome is that bride price is a source of income and is practice across all generations, but is a complex system. (Nguyen 2010:S12)
One thing that is for certain in Hmong culture is that it remains patriarchal. Most women cannot leave the house without their parent-in-law’s and husband’s permission. Many of the women reported having to wear western clothing just so they wouldn’t be sexually harassed by the males. It is seen as a sign of conformity, steering away from Hmong values and traditions. Another way the women break barriers is by going to school. Many of them have access to information on birth control, sex, reproduction health, etc. stuff that their mother’s did not have. “Their level of knowledge is certainly not representative of al Hmong girls in the district, but reveals an eagerness and ability to inform themselves and learn new things, which their parents had not been able to do.” (Nguyen 2010:S10)
All in all, the study gave evidence that the Hmong culture is changing and adaptable. Women are able to have more choices, but there is still a lot of work to be done. For example, the women attending school felt glad to be learning, but at the same time did not have any confidence in pursuing higher education. “…the principal factors influencing them to abandon their studies were marriage and family poverty.” (Nguyen 2010:S10) Many of the women must dedicate themselves to domestic duties while the husband continues his education. Only time will tell what will be the future of these women and where their culture will take them and others on the long road that is being a Hmong in Vietnam.
Nguyen Thi Huong, Pauline Oosterhoff, and Joanna White. 2011. “Aspirations and Realities of Love, Marriage and Education Among Hmong Women” Culture, Health & Sexuality. Vol. 13, No. S2, December 2011. S201-S215