I’ve seen and heard many Hmong people use bride price and dowry interchangeably, however their meanings are very different.  Merriam Webster defines bride price as “a payment given by or in behalf of a prospective husband to the bride’s family….”  So, basically, it is money or goods that the groom gives to the bride’s family for her hand in marriage.  Dowry is “the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage.”

When referring to Hmong weddings, the bride price is the nqi tshoob (price of the wedding), nqi taub hau (price of the bride’s head), nqi poj niam (price of a wife), or nqi mis nqi hno (price for the bride’s parents’ nurture and nourishment).  (These 4 terms are the most commonly used Hmong terms for bride price).  Generally, a groom will pay around 3k to 10k for his bride, with the average being around 5-6k.  In the olden days, silver bars were used to pay for the bride price.

Dowry is often confused for bride price.  It bothers me when I hear a Hmong man say that he needs to save up to pay for his girlfriend’s dowry. The groom does not have anything to do with the dowry.  It is the bride’s parents—especially her mother—who gives the bride her dowry.  The dowry for a Hmong bride generally consist of traditional Hmong clothes, ornate silver jewelry and coin-bags, gold jewelry, a traditional hand-sewn baby carrier, and clothes for when she dies.  It also includes new dishes, silverware, and new blankets for the newly married couple to start their lives.  These days, in the US, I’ve seen parents give the bride a new car as her dowry.  The dowry is called khoom phij cuam in Hmong.

Nqi poj niam and khoom phij cuam are very different.  I can’t imagine a Hmong man saying in Hmong that he is going to save up for his bride’s dowry.  This never happens!  However, it is very common in the English language to get bride price confused with dowry and vice versa.  So, before you speak of either one, remember that bride price is what you will be paying for your bride (hence the word “price”) and dowry is what she will be bringing with her when she marries you.

4 thoughts on “Bride Price vs Dowry

  1. So this ancient custom is still practiced in the U.S.? I’m sorry to be so sarcastic. But hearing of parents giving a car as the bride’s dowry..is just wrong.

    It should be simply given as a gift maybe a day before wedding as a surprise. In this manner, it is the true spirit of giving and neither bride/bridegroom “expect” this “dowry”.

    And always there should be never any expectation of a certain $$$ value of gifts from parents. This is simply wrong if the engaged couple are adults and capable of working.

    A wedding gift from bride’s parents AND another wedding gift from bridegroom’s parents with no strings attached, with no knowledge by the engaged couple, in advance of what the gifts may be: this is the best way to express best wishes by anyone to the couple.

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  2. I don’t think it is wrong to give the daughter a car as a dowry. That you expect gifts to be given, but not be made a show of, with no pre-notice, does not reflect some correct moral order of the universe… just your expectations around etiquette. Etiquette is dependent on the social and cultural context. You aren’t being sarcastic in expressing your opinion. You are, however, being righteous…and without justification other than your apparent emotional response to the unfamiliar.

    The notion of dowries (common in European traditions as well) and bride prices, etc. all seem a bit odd to me. Despite being odd though, they do represent common aspects of marriage customs across many cultural groups – including ones familiar to most Americans.

    Broadly speaking, Hmong traditions are that marriage is more than uniting two people but also unites two families (a common notion that only became uncommon in the US in the last century). There are processes governing this and an exchange of resources/money. Generally, such exchanges are common across many cultures and groups – although this manifests differently for different groups. Most Americans are familiar with different traditions, which often involve the expectation of an expensive ring (to the woman) as an engagement present, the daughter’s family covering the cost of the wedding, etc. Traditionally, community members give the the new couple useful presents (toasters, for example) to help equip their new (and empty) household. Obviously, traditions have changed quite a bit as our marriage changes in our society. Couples get married when they older, gift registries (implicit expectations about gifts) exist and are often dominated by luxury items and not life necessities, and paying for the wedding (which used to be more modest community events) have become “princess-for-a-day” debt-incurring events.

    With the Hmong, I was not familiar with the dowry (or that it was called that), just that the parents of the daughter (getting married) would leave the household with some clothes and gifts – generally more modest (in monetary value) than the bride price paid by the male’s (family). My concern about the exchange of property/money in this is less that it seems unfamiliar from my cultural perspective but more, that in an American social context, the specifics are less adaptive. It provides an incentive for actions that put young, Hmong, women (and girls), at a disadvantage. It provides families an incentive to marry daughters when they are still very young. This is associated with all sorts of deleterious outcomes for women in an American context. Also, given a bad relationship, it provides a barrier for the woman to leave as, if she leaves, the woman/her family usually has to return the bride price. In such a situation, many have motivations (from the family, to the elders, etc.) to keep a young woman in a bad environment. There are also cultural explanations for bad marriages, here, that usually disproportionately blame the woman – and a woman emerges from such an event far more socially tarnished than does the male. Also, often being married so young, such women are more likely to be disempowered. They are likely to be less educated, more likely to have children, and have limited employment opportunities. If no one is looking out for them, this does little to help them help themselves. This doesn’t help those women nor their children.

    Such a thing is not particular to the Hmong, though. It would be very easy to get into the maladaptive aspects of traditional American weddings and even newer practices.

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  3. “You are, however, being righteous…and without justification other than your apparent emotional response to the unfamiliar.

    The notion of dowries (common in European traditions as well) and bride prices, etc. all seem a bit odd to me. Despite being odd though, they do represent common aspects of marriage customs across many cultural groups – including ones familiar to most Americans.

    Broadly speaking, Hmong traditions are that marriage is more than uniting two people but also unites two families (a common notion that only became uncommon in the US in the last century)”

    Same for old traditional Chinese marriage practices. Same thinking, Greg. Until that got eroded in past…..75 yrs.

    Thank goodness. Did you look up who I am..maybe I should state that I was raised by immigrant Chinese parents..who came to Canada in 1950’s. My mother was a picture bride. I don’t think she really brought along her “dowry” or really even had a true dowry, except for her own clothes and some jewellery that her parents gave as a good-bye gift. My father bought her 1-way plane ticket (A plane ticket in 1950’s was very expensive.) he was already in Canada for a few years, looking for a wife). They met for the first time and got married in a few days.

    I’m so glad there wasn’t “dowry” involved. Probably only desire by her parents that she marry a guy (who she only corresponded via letters) that he was working a job in Canada.

    My parents are sort of that in-between generation…getting pulled out of the patriarchical mode of thinking but not totally..since my mother was always a housewife. And after trying ….after 4 daughters, they got a boy, because that was their way of thinking, the necessity of a son…

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