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“The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down:

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Presentation on theme: "“The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down:"— Presentation transcript:

1 “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down:
A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures” A book by Anne Fadiman Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award

2 Summary The book chronicles the story of a very sick girl, Lia Lee, her refugee parents, and the doctors who struggled desperately to treat her.

3 Two main issues discussed in the book:
The limits of Western medicine The experience of migrants in a global world.

4 Lia Lee Born in the San Joaquin valley in California to Hmong refugees. At the age of three months, she first showed signs of qaug dab peg.

5 Qaug Dab Peg Literally: “The spirit catches you and you fall down.”
In the West, this condition is known as epilepsy.

6 Doctors Saw the best treatment in a large collection of pills, that kept constantly changing.

7 Parents Preferred a combination of Western medicine and folk remedies designed to coax her wandering soul back to her body.

8 Over a period of four years, deep cultural differences and linguistic miscommunication exacerbated the rift between well-intentioned parents and doctors.

9 Result Lia lost all of her higher brain functions.

10 Chapters 1-4 The Hmong are an ethnic group who traditionally lived in Laos, among other places in Southeast Asia.


12 Hmong History: Is full of struggle.
For most of their history, the Hmong lived in what is China today. The Chinese called them Miao, meaning “barbarians,” or “bumpkins.”

13 Though both sides were violent, this was not a symmetrical relationship.
The Hmong never had any interest in ruling over the Chinese or anyone else; they wanted to be left alone. However, history has shown that this is the most difficult request any minority can make of a majority culture.

14 The Hmong were subject to a special criminal code
The Hmong were subject to a special criminal code. Instead of being imprisoned, offenders were either executed or had their noses, ears, and testicles sliced off.

15 Around A.D. 400, the Hmong succeded in establishing an independent kingdom.
It lasted for five hundred years before the Chinese managed to crush it.

16 Beginning of the 19th century:
The Hmong had enough of China. Half a million migrated to Indochina (the peninsula of southeast Asia comprising Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Burma).

17 The French established colonial control over Indochina in the 1890s.
The Hmong rebelled against their extortionate tax system in series of revolts.

18 Hmong Never possessed a country of their own, never had a king, all they have wanted is the right to live as free people in this world.

19 Since 1975, at least 150,000 Hmong have had to flee Laos.
The Lees do not know if their house is still standing.

20 Twelve of the Lee’s children were born in Laos, and following local custom, the parents buried the placentas two feet deep in the dirt floor of their home.

21 Placenta An organ developed by female mammals during pregnancy, through which the mother’s body provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus and allows it to eliminate waste and carbon dioxide.

22 In Laos The placenta was always buried with the smooth side up, since otherwise it might cause the baby to vomit after nursing.

23 When a Hmong dies His or her soul must travel back from place to place until it reaches the burial place of its placenta, and puts it on. The placenta is considered a “jacket”, the first and finest garment a person ever wears.

24 After birth – Naming Ceremony:
Names are conferred in a hu plig (soul calling) ritual. Until this ceremony is performed, a baby is not considered to be fully a member of the human race.

25 The soul in Hmong culture:
Is very important. The most common cause of illness is considered to be soul loss. A soul can be separated from its body through anger, grief, fear, curiosity or a desire to travel.

26 Souls of newborn babies:
Especially vulnerable and prone to disappearance, because they are so small, vulnerable and precariously situated between the realm of the seen and the realm of the unseen.

27 Babies’ souls may wander away; they may leave if a baby is feeling sad; they may be frightened away by a sudden loud noise; or they may be stolen by a dab.

28 Dab = Malevolent Spirit

29 In groups of 3: What do you think of traditional Hmong birth practices (pp. 3-5)? Compare them to the techniques used when Lia was born (p.7). How do Hmong and American birth practices differ?

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