The older generation of the Hmong people believes in polygamy, where a Hmong man can have more than one wife as long as he can support them. They believe by doing this they can build a bigger family and by having a big family means that they are wealthy. There is no proper support either for it or against it. Many of the younger generation now do not believe in polygamy and therefore do not practice it.
However, having more than one wife cause serious problems and make the women feel not so fortunate. The second (2nd) wife tends to get a lot of attention but usually has less respect than the first (1st) wife and leaving the first (1st) wife in a difficult position, often feeling hurt by the competition of a younger woman for her husband’s affection and attention. The first (1st) wife is often aware of the new relationship and sometimes feels it gets rubbed in her face to make her feel even worse than she already does. Majority of the time, all the wives live under the same roof.
Many of the older Hmong men in the U.S. continue to support more than one wife and family. They usually have only one legal marriage and consider the others to be “Hmong marriage.” For example, General Vang Pao was help up for more than two (2) months in Thailand before being flown to the United States because he had several wives. Because polygamy is illegal in the United States he had to divorce all but one of his wives before he was allowed on American soil.
A good example of a form of polygamy is, if the husband were to pass away, the wife must marry someone, usually a brother or cousin of the husband to keep the children in the father’s extended family, clan and patrilineal. Usually the brother or cousin is already married. Majority of the time, the widow’s marriage to the brother or cousin is done without her total consent. She does have the right to voice her concerns and refuse the offer; but there is a higher chance that she would not be successful. If in the event that she voices her concerns and refuses the offer, members of the deceased husband’s clan would do everything they can to make her agree with the marriage. They’d try to convince her that she should agree to the marriage for the best interests of her children and almost pressure or force her into the marriage with her deceased husband’s brother or cousin. Most of the time the widow would feel like she has no alternative choices, but to go along with the marriage agreement from her deceased husband’s extended family and clan for the sake and best interests of her children. The clan leaders say this is a way of taking care of the deceased husband’s wife and children.