Gender over the Life Cycle Socialization of Boys and Girls

Guided by the concept of hlub, "concerned love of others," Hmong parents are permissive and tolerant toward children younger than 7. Once they demonstrate that they can start assuming productive roles within the family, children receive explicit guidance, and are subject to corporal punishment for serious misbehaviors.3 More responsibility and discipline are imposed as children mature, and they are expected to be very well mannered by the time they reach adolescence.

In the poetics of Hmong ritual language, the placenta is referred to as the "silver and gold jacket" or the "silk shirt" that a baby sheds at birth and a deceased person puts on again before traveling back to the village of the ancestors. When they lived in dirt-floored houses in Laos, the Hmong buried the placenta of a male child around the base of the central house post, the tus ncej tas ("the post of all ancestral relatives"); many rituals were conducted near that post. His early physical association with the main support of the house indicated that he would help continue the descent line, maintain clan and lineage rituals, guide household members, and represent them in dealings with the larger community. The placenta of a female child was buried at a bedpost or under the bed to symbolize her future role in domestic affairs, particularly reproduction. Of course, these symbolic practices have been discontinued in the United States. What has not changed is the fact that Hmong females learn very early that they will leave their natal families and become "other people's daughters" when they marry.

Hmong children in Laos were encouraged to participate in activities appropriate to their sex. Boys began imitating their fathers and older male relatives by playing with miniature agricultural and hunting implements. By the time they were 8 or 9 they had regular farm chores to perform, and sometimes accompanied the men on hunting forays. The adolescent sons of farmers labored in the fields, and learned the wood- and metal-working skills needed to maintain the family operation. Businessmen, typically itinerate traders, kept their sons in school until their mathematical and literacy skills became a business asset. Late adolescence was a time when the importance of learning how to perform family rituals was impressed upon boys. Those who showed musical talent were encouraged to take up instruments like the ceremonially important multipiped qeej. Ancestor spirits sometimes brought illness upon a youth as a means of calling him to a type of curing known as ua neeb, "working with spirit familiars." He usually waited until adulthood before apprenticing with a txiv neeb.

Very young girls began their roles as caretakers and teachers of domestic skills by playing with nkauj nyab, handmade "daughter-in-law" dolls. At 6, or even 5 years of age they started sweeping the house floor and feeding the chickens. Before reaching adolescence, girls know the rudimentary aspects of cooking, keeping house, taking care of young children, maintaining the garden, and tending the smaller animals. Among their female peers, they sometimes spoke lus rov, a kind of reversed language that males did not know or bother to learn. This created a gender-exclusive social space that girls maintained until suitors began to show an interest in them. In the company of their mothers, grandmothers, and aunts, they sewed, wove textiles, and plaited baskets. A vast knowledge of domestic medicine was passed down within families from older to younger females. Such information was extremely valuable because a woman who is recognized as a kws tshuaj, or "expert in medicine," could command high prices for a variety of treatments, the most important being to increase a woman's fertility. A comparatively small number of women learned the arts of the txiv neeb.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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