Tag Archives: hmong

Thanksgiving Reading

Thanksgiving reading; like summer reading but shorter and less of an actual thing. Anyway, mostly I’m writing this to talk about the exceptionally cool book I read in the course of researching my paper. “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” details one of the earliest publicized struggles between Hmong immigrants and Western doctors. Its used often times as a teaching aid in medical anthropology classes and occasionally in medical classes as well as an example of the difficulties in inter-cultural communication, and the barriers that language and culture can construct. I don’t want to give to much away (especially since you’re all going to have to read quite a bit about it in my paper) but the story talks about a young girl who suffered from epilepsy and her parents, who spoke very, very limited English and the difficulties they had negotiating their own religious and spiritual practices and the expectations of Western doctors. The problem stemmed mostly from a lack of Hmong interpreters and from the way in which epilepsy is perceived in the Hmong culture. The title is the literal translation of the term for epilepsy. It is seen as showing a talent for entering the spirit world, which means that the person suffering from the seizures possesses the potential to become a shaman.  Fadiman alternates chapters between detailing the greater picture behind the story and the case study itself, and does so quite masterfully (at least in my humble and poorly qualified opinion).

 

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Hmong Shamanism in America

The above video is a brief excerpt from one of the documentaries I will be addressing in my research this semester- in it, the question of the persistence and change of shamanic tradition among the Hmong immigrants in the US is addressed through the view point of a shaman’s 14 year old daughter. Its a fascinating look at the way an ancient religion molds and adapts to its new surroundings- less it face being swept away in favor of newer traditions. This process of adaptation is the heart of my research; I am interested to find out how Hmong shaman immigrants and their families negotiate their identity and practices while attempting to adapt to a whole new culture. Many traditional healing rites involve the sacrifice of animals; how is this negotiated in the presence of the rules and regulations of hospitals? Do Hmong immigrants still predominantly rely on traditional medicine or are they coming to intertwine the spiritual and the modern medicine of their homes in the West? How are traditional rituals enacted in a new environment? These are the things I’m looking to address over the course of my research. The documentary excerpted above is titled Split Horn, and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning a little more about the topic!