The "Mong" people and their conventions
With a population of some 558,053 people (according to the 1989 survey’s figure), the Mong ethnic minority group resides on high-land areas of 800 - 1500m above the sea level, mainly in the provinces of Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Lai Chau, Son La, Cao Bang, Lang Son and Nghe An.


With a population of some 558,053 people (according to the 1989 survey’s figure), the Mong ethnic minority group resides on high-land areas of 800 - 1500m above the sea level, mainly in the provinces of Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang, Lao Cai, Yen Bai, Lai Chau, Son La, Cao Bang, Lang Son and Nghe An. They have practiced slash- and- burn farming on mountain slopes and tops through primitive methods which have yielded low productivity and consequently a poor life.

The Mong people are believed having sprung from the same stock with the Miao now residing in Honan, Guizhou and Sichuan provinces of China. According to many researchers, the Mong migrated into Vietnam some 5-6 centuries ago through Dong Van (of Ha Giang) and Lao Cai. They have called themselves Mong (not H’Mong or Homong as seen in some documents and books), which has been recognized since 1978 as the replacement for their former name of “Meo”.

People of this ethnic minority group live in hamlets which are classified into two types: the sedentary hamlet (as seen in Ha Giang and Lao Cai provinces) and the nomadic hamlet (in Vietnam’s northwestern region, Thanh Hoa and Nghe An provinces). A sedentary hamlet often groups from 15 to 20 families with more than 100 inhabitants. Meanwhile, a nomadic hamlet is smaller, grouping from several to 10 families. The Mong’s traditional house is built with earthern walls and thatch or tile roof into three compartments. The middle compartment serves as the living room behind which is the family’s holy place. Right at the main doorway is a 40cm-high threshold which visitors must cross over but not step on (that is a taboo) when entering the house.

From time immemorial, the Mong established their old customs and conventions, which have been passed from generation to generation. Under the French colonial time, the regime of “tho ty” was organized in the regions inhabited by the Mong people from the district to hamlet level. A district was headed by a mandarin called “thong ly”; and under “thong ly” were “ma phai” (hamlet chief), “xeo phai” (ward chief) and “lang thau” (head of a family group). The ruling apparatus of “tho ty” type was built on the basis of the clan relationship- a typical feature of the Mong’s society. Due to geographical conditions of the high land region where the movement of people was extremely difficult, each hamlet and each ward is situated separately from others; hence, the clan constituted a very necessary factor to bind members together. To the Mong, people of the same lineage must be those sharing the same “source of ghost” (thung senh, thung dang), namely the same family names such as Vang, Sung, Thao, Vu, Dang, Ly..., and sharing the same ghost-worshipping rituals such as the new-ghost worshipping ritual (the burial ceremony where the empty coffin was put into the grave first, then the corpse was carried from home and put into the coffin later); pig-offering ritual (when a member of the family got sick because, according to a local sorcerer, the ghost demanded a pig); or cow-ghost worshipping ritual (after a parent died for three years or more, the children had to kill a cow to thank the parents), etc. Each line of decent has had its own rituals. So, people sharing the same family names and the same rituals are brothers and sisters of the same lineage. And according to the Mong’s rules and conventions, a man and a woman of the same lineage were not allowed to get married with each other despite whether they were near (sharing the same ghost-worshipping rituals) or distant relatives.

The Mong family is of the paternal type, comprising even 20 or 30 people from three or four generations. In a family, everyone works together, enjoys the fruit of their labor together, shares their meals... According to the Mong’s customs and conventions, family members are equal and their products are considered their common property. Yet, only men in the family are entitled to the inheritance right and the heritage is decided by the father after consulting other members of the family. The sons in the family are not necessarily given equal parts of the property. The son who stays with the parents is given a larger share. Again, it is not necessary that he is the eldest son. The person who stays with the parent is agreed upon by the parents and the children. He has the responsibility to look after the parents and manage the family on behalf of the father; and when the parents die he shall be the one who takes the main responsibility for the funeral.

Mong girls and boys are free to choose their soul mates. If a man finds the right woman, he reports to his parents who, if they baptize the couple, shall go to the girl’s family, proposing the marriage. The Mong people usually organize weddings in Winter, a season without thunder-one of their taboo. Weddings are organized both at the man’s and the woman’s house. According to the Mong people’s conception, following the wedding ceremony, the girl’s “spiritual life” totally belongs to her husband’s family. Yet, the Mong conventions also permit simpler and less costly wedding ceremony through a practice called “keo vo” (wife pulling or “hay pu” in Mong language). If the couple love each other they can together arrange one evening in which the man shall “pull” the woman to his house before organizing the marriage-proposing ceremony. So, in face of such fait accompli, the girl’s family shall be left with no other choice but to agree to a little demand and a simpler wedding ceremony. However, there have been many cases where the parents forced their daughters to marry persons they did not love as reflected through the following lyrics of a folk song:

“Your father has received the money from them

If you refuse to get married, he shall cut your flesh piece by piece.

Your father has drunk their liquor

If you refuse to get married, he will whip you away”

For such cases, the Mong convention opens a way out for the woman through the “wife-robbing” practice. If a married woman wish to build for her a new life with the man she loves, she and her lover shall run away until some day she sends out the news through an intermediately to her husband that she needs a divorce and would return all the wedding presents to him. Only when the husband accepts can the couple become husband and wife.

Another marital practice of the Mong people is that a widow, still young and wishing to remarry, can be allowed by her in-laws to get married with her late husband’s younger brother though the latter has already got married and had children.

Usually, a Mong women gives birth to children at home with her mother-in-law acting as the midwife. In front of the house where an infant was just born, tree leaves are put up as a sign to warn off any stranger because people fear that the infant spirit will follow the stranger if he/she enters the house. If the latter inattentively entered the house, he/she must leave behind something such as a shirt, a bag, a sandal... when he/she leaves the house. According to a Mong rule, the clothings of the nursing mothers are not allowed to be washed at the head of the water source for fear that people or cattle that drink such water mixed with their milk shall be struck by thunder.

Like rules and conventions of other ethnicities, the Mong’s have long been established and passed from generation to generation, which contain their concepts of the world, the universe and traditional social relationships, and help strengthen the relations among members of the Mong community.

Yet, those conventions are handicapped by many backward and supertitious regulations that have been gradually overcome. Meanwhile, positive elements in those conventions and rules such as the clan-type relationship, a typical feature of the Mong people’s culture, should be further studied and maintained, making them a firm base for a more effective enforcement of the State laws among the Mong people through their voluntary and willing observance.-

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