Hmong Family and Clan

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Hmong are group oriented. Hmong society is built on thousands of years of war, resistance to oppression, and dislocation. In these circumstances, the survival of the individual depends on the survival of the group. As a result, the interests of the group come before the interests of the individual. A Hmong person belongs to a family, the family belongs to a clan, and the clan belongs to the Hmong people. Hmong often use the term we to refer to their family, their clan, and their identity as a people. It is very common for a Hmong person to say peb tsev neeg (‘our family’), peb lub xeem (‘our clan’), and peb Hmoob (‘our Hmong people’).

The family is the basic social unit in traditional Hmong society. It serves as the unit of production, consumption, socialization, social control, and mutual assistance. While a Hmong household may vary in size from a married couple to more than 20 people, a typical household consists of an extended family made up of many generations.

There are about 19 Hmong clans in Laos: Cha or Chang, Cheng, Chu, Fang, Hang, Her, Khang, Kong, Kue, Lor or Lo, Lee or Ly, Moua, Phang, Tang, Thao, Vang, Vue, Xiong, and Yang. Within the clans, there might be several subclans, whose members can trace their ancestors to a common person or share a common tradition of ancestral worship and other ritual practices. Clan membership is obtained by birth, marriage for women, and adoption. Although a married Hmong woman continues to identify herself by her birth family’s clan name, for all practical purposes she is a member of her husband’s family and clan.

Members of a clan consider each other clan brothers or clan sisters. Socially and culturally, they are obligated to help each other. When two Hmong meet each other, they greet each other by saying Koj tuaj los! (‘You come!’). When someone passes through a Hmong village, a villager usually greets the passerby and insists that the passerby stop by his or her home for a meal or at least a cup of water. After greeting, they exchange names, ages, clans, and generations to establish their relationship in order to properly address each other. If they belong to the same clan, they will establish the precise relationship within the clan. If not, they will establish their relationship through the marriage of their kin, beginning with their wives and aunts. They will address one another using kinship terms, such as brother, uncle, aunt, and so on. In the highlands of Laos, every Hmong is related, either through close or distant relatives.


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