What Should I Know About the Hmong Culture?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

The Hmong people are members of an Asian minority ethnic group that traces its ancestry to the mountainous regions of southern China. Today, the Hmong people live in several different countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Laos, Myanmar-Burma, and northern Vietnam. In the United States, however, the greatest number of Hmong people can be found in California, Minnesota, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Some Hmong live in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and northern Vietnam.
Some Hmong live in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and northern Vietnam.

Language is a key identifier of the Hmong culture. Over four million people around the world speak the Hmong language, but there are many different dialects that are used to identify smaller groups within the culture. For example, Hmong people in the United States generally speak one of two major dialects: White Hmong (Hmong Der or Hmong Daw) and Green Mong (Mong Leng or Mong Njua).

Over four million people speak the Hmong language, although there are different dialects.
Over four million people speak the Hmong language, although there are different dialects.

Gender roles in Hmong society are very traditional. Men are to provide for both the physical and spiritual welfare of the family, while women care for the children and maintain the household. At mealtime, it is customary in the Hmong culture to allow the men to eat before the women enjoy the meal. The wife is typically consulted before major decisions are made, but the husband is given the final authority.

Divorce is very rare in traditional Hmong culture, but it is allowed. The husband maintains custody of all male children and the wife retains custody of all female children unless she has committed adultery. In this case, the husband is given custody of all children from the marriage.

There is no uniform belief system among contemporary Hmong people. Many members of the Hmong culture are Christians, but there are also a number of people who continue the traditional spiritual practices that include animism and ancestor worship. Shamans, healers who act as links between the spirit and material world, are also sometimes consulted to provide herbal remedies or sacrifices of spirit money when someone is ill.

One of the most important celebrations in the Hmong culture is the Hmong New Year. Since the celebrations generally occur in either November or December, however, they may also be thought of as a sort of Thanksgiving holiday for the Hmong people. The event is usually a community-wide activity where people dress in traditional clothing and enjoy traditional foods, dance, and music. In the United States and other areas where Hmong young people often feel pressured to assimilate into the surrounding culture, the Hmong New Year helps to keep traditional values and beliefs alive.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the wiseGEEK team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

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Discussion Comments


@GigaGold - There are examples of scattered people groups who speak a similar language as a result of diaspora rather than assimilation. It could be that the Hmong simply migrated to different locations of Southeast Asia at a later time period than when such surrounding people groups were established in that area.


The Hmong languages are scattered throughout Southeast Asia in a way that suggests that they were likely an indigenous tribe there which was subsequently conquered/ assimilated by the predominant people groups of the modern era, such as the Han Chinese and speakers of Tai-Kadai languages. This is a common pattern throughout the world, with scattered groups often indicating an earlier presence in a given location.

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