The issue examined here are based on my own life experiences as a Hmong from Laos and on information collected in the field in Thailand, Australia and the US.
Like the Han Chinese who have dominated and influenced them over many centuries, the Hmong seem to live constantly "under the ancestors' shadow" (Hsu, 1967). Close observation of ancestor worship is believed mandatory to the fortune of a family or kin group. A person's ritual system determines his or her social groupings, and interpersonal relations are assessed in relation to one's ancestral rites. Such important activities as farming, hunting and gathering often involve people linked to one another by kinship and affinal ties. As well as the need for religious sacrifices to the dead, special occasions like New Year celebrations, weddings, funerals, new harvests or a major crisis bring together living members of a lineage to discharge their mutual obligations. While the elders require the moral and practical support of the young, the latter also seek the guidance and wisdom of the former so that both can fulfil their physical and spiritual needs, thus enabling each group to perform functions expected of them.
Gender Roles and their Ritual Contexts:
The Hmong value highly a social system with father-right as the norm. In other words, the male head of the family and those male relatives who represent him in his absence or after his death, have the authority to make decisions affecting the household and the lineage. Their wishes are to be respected by junior males and the female members of the group. Accordingly, young married men should live in the house of their father or any senior male relative who has paid for their wedding expenses. This is a way for them to repay the debt with their services, but in particular to show the need for the wives to be incorporated into the husbands' parental household, together with t View More »