There are 18 hmong Clans, meaning that there is not just one hmong language. The clan system provides the basic form of social and political organization for Hmong society. At birth, a Hmong person takes his or her father’s clan name and remains a member for life with the exception of Hmong women who marry and take on new identities in their husbands’ clans. Traditional Hmong society consisted of 18 clans each of which possessed its own set of rituals. As there is no standardization in Hmong religious rituals, practices among clans differ from clan to clan and from family to family within clans. Thus only those Hmong families with close relatives may share the same rituals.
The functions of Hmong Clans include social support, legal authority, and economic security.
In terms of social support, Hmong refer to the relationship existing between members of a clan as kwv tij, or “brothers”. Members of a clan are expected to provide mutual assistance to one another. Traditionally, a Hmong passing through a village may present himself at the house of any clansman, even a person completely unknown, and expect hospitality.
Clan membership also serves legal functions. Any dispute between two Hmong or different clans will typically be settled by clan leaders. Clan leaders may be involved in such matters as reconciling a quarreling couple, and ensuring that individuals fulfil ritual obligations.
Traditionally, clans provided economic security to Hmong. A large number of relatives that could be called upon provided an element of security to farmers who had to move periodically. Clan also made available knowledge and access to resources.
In Laos, the Hmong resided in extended families of three or four generations. Traditionally, the clans provided any social services required of their members. Every clan possessed skilled persons who served as healers, marriage brokers, teachers, and disciplinarians. Fellow clans regard each other as brother and sister. Marriage between members of the same clan – no matter how distant the relationship – is strictly forbidden. In a time of need, an individual will first turn to the clan. The clan is obligated to respond. Clans offer security. The larger the clan the more services it is able to offer its members including help finding jobs and apartments. Clans and extended families have often drawn their dispersed members to larger enclave communities of Hmong including St. Paul and Fresno.
The most common translation of Hmong clan names to facilitate American pronounciation is the following:
Chang (Tsaab); Chue (Tswb); Cheng (Tsheej); Fang (Faj); Her (Hawj); Hang (Taag/Haam); Khang (Khaab): Kong (Koo): Kue (Kwm); Lee (Lis); Lor (Lauj): Moua (Muas/Zag); Pha (Phab): Thao (Thoj): Vang (Vaaj/Vaj): Vue (Vwj); Xiong (Xyooj): and Yang (Yaaj).