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Traditional Cultures Essay

Anthropology is the discipline that answers the questions regarding human beings (Ember & Ember, 1993, p. 2). Anthropologists seek to find the “when, where, and why” of human life on earth (p. 2). As such, it comprises a wide range of disciples, from sociology, biology, political science, economics, history, an even philosophy and literate (p. 2). There are four major sub disciplines of anthropology- physical anthropology, linguistics, archaeology and ethnology (p. 2). Physical anthropology refers to the human evolution, linguistics deals with the language, and archaeology and ethnology pertain to cultural history and cultural variation, respectively. This essay will compare the cultures of the Hmong and the Samoans.

Based on some pieces of evidence, the Hmong trace their origin from Siberia (Lao Family Community of Minnesota, 1997). They had pale skin, blonde hair and spoke a language similar to Chinese (1997). In fact, the first concrete historical account of the Hmongs was in China from B.C. to 400 A.D. (1997). It was said that Chinese dynasties either “welcomed the Hmongs” or “tried to enslave them” (1997).

Throughout the centuries, the Hmongs struggled for freedom until they traveled to Laos, enticed by the fecund land and the “promise of freedom” in the Laotian mountains (1997). When war broke out, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) trained some Hmong to become spies (Moua, 2003, p. 9).Following the Vietnam War, many Hmong sought refuge in Thailand, France and the US. (1997). According to the 2000 U.S. census, an estimated 170,000 Hmongs now call US their home, mostly residing in Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota, Fresno,CA and Milwaukee, WI(1997).

On the other hand, Samoans are said to origin from the West Indies and the Malay Peninsula (Pacific Island Travel, 2007). Some Samoans believe that that their ancestor is the god Tagaloa (2007). There is a Samoan legend comparing their origin to that of the Biblical creation (2007). Until the 1660s, Samoan had a simple way of living. With the arrival of missionaries, British, German and American governments, the island has had undergone colonization (2007). The island is currently divided into two- Western Samoa (which was under German and New Zealand government then but is now an independent country) and Eastern Samoa, which has been a U.S. possession since 1900 (2007).

For the Hmong, kinship forms the crux of their society, whether consanguineal or affinal kin (Moua, 2003, p.13). The Hmong society dictates consanguine affinities as the most important (p. 13). Moreover, ties, whether blood or affinal kin, play an important role in shaping and strengthening clans, fostering support and cooperation and creating responsibilities and roles (p. 13).

Additionally, the Hmong has a “ritual form of kinship” which includes adoption (p. 13). The basic social structure of the Hmong society has 18 clans (p.15). These clans are responsible for helping “consanguine members” from the day they were born to the day they died (p. 15). Each clan has a founding male ancestor, consistent with the patrilineal custom common in Asian culture (p.16). This patrilineal system differentiates the Hmongs from the Samoans.

The Samoans have an ambilineal society (Ember & Ember, 1993, p. 345). This means that Samoans may trace their ambilineal group through their mother or father, making them affiliated to a number or descent groups (p. 345). In a Samoan society, there exist two ambilineal groups- clans and sub clans (p. 345). In each clan, there are chiefs and each group takes the name of its senior chief. On the other hand, sub clans take their name on the junior chiefs (p. 345).

Since the Hmongs live in the mountains, their food subsistence technology is mainly shifting cultivation, livestock breeding and terrace field farming (Tinh, 2002). They plant crops, such as rice and maize (p.9) . The Hmong also raise buffaloes, cows, goats, and pigs (p. 9). Poultry is also prevalent, such as chicken, ducks, and geese but mostly reserved for offerings (p.10).

Samoans, living on a lush island, benefits from horticulture (Ember & Ember, 1993, p. 234). Like the Hmong, they plan crops. Their staple root crop is called taro (p. 234). They also plant fruit-bearing trees such as coconuts and bananas (p. 234). Samoans also raise chicken and pigs but these are “eaten occasionally” (234). Samoans are known to market copra (sun-dried coconut meat) worldwide (p. 345).

Today, Hmong continue to live in Vietnamese mountains. Food has always been a problem for them. Their isolated communities have made advancements difficult for the Hmong. Lack of information, aggravated by their growing population, has made Hmong life complicated. They have often been accused of tampering the environment due to their practice of shifting cultivation (Lee & Tapp, 2005).

There are now plans to move the Hmong to the low lands. That may both be an advantage and disadvantage to them. It is an advantage for moving to the lowlands would expose them to the world, so to speak. They would be able to open their minds. However, on the down side, leaving their homes may also be dangerous to them. They would be far from their mores and that could cause chaos or resistance.

The Samoans, being colonized by Western countries, also have their own problems. While they have retained their culture and in fact have capitalized on it to draw attention, the islands have survived mostly on financial aids. Following the independence of Samoa most of its citizens have migrated to New Zealand. This only proves that Samoans still believe that life outside is better.

The Hmong and the Samoans have distinct characteristics that make them rich in culture. However, living in the 20th century is challenging. Combining elements of culture, customs and society with the urban world is a phenomenon that the Hmong and Samoans simply have to face.



Ember, C. & Ember, M. (1993). Anthropology 7th ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Koria, Samoa. (1995). The people of Samoa. Retrieved July 24, 2008 from

Lao Family Community of Minnesota (1997). History of the Hmong-a timeline.

Retrieved July 24, 2008 from

Lee, G. & Tapp, N. (2005). Current Hmong issue- 12 point statement.

Retrieved July 24, 2008, from

Moua, Teng. (2003). The Hmong culture: kinship, marriage and family systems.

Retrieved July 24, 2008 from

Pacific Island Travel (2007). Samoa. Retrieved July 24, 2008, from

Tinh, Vuong Xuan. (2002). Looking for food : the difficult journey of the Hmong in

Vietnam : (anthropological perspectives on food security). Retrieved July 24, 2008, from

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