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.