Part One: Ethnographic Critical Review
Sickness and Medicine
The book “The Spirit Catches you and you fall down”, follows the journey of a Hmong infant named Lia Lee and her family with her diagnosis of epilepsy. The family lives in Merced County, a rural area in California. The family is poor, relying on monthly welfare checks to help the family get by. The family are influenced heavily by their culture which include several rituals. The Hmong are very spiritual, and they partake in sacrifices to cure certain sicknesses or diseases. For example, they will sacrifice a chicken, dog, sheep or cat to cure infertility often brought by a dab, or a bad spirit (Fadiman 1988). Hmong women are also ritualistic when it comes to their pregnancies. When they crave a certain food, they must eat it or the child will be born with some type of birth defect. Hmong women often gave birth in their homes and if they were away, they would rush back to their homes to give birth in fear that if she did not, a dab will injure her during birth (Fadiman 1988). Water boiled with a key it was also used to open the birth canal during a difficult pregnancy. Prayers were said over the woman giving birth also. After birth, the placenta was buried under the floor of the house. Depending on the sex of the child, if it was a girl it was buried under the parents’ bed, if it was boy, it was buried under the base pillar of the house (Fadiman 1988). During the journey following the Lee family, Fadiman used methods such as speaking to nurses and doctors that worked at the hospital the family visited, being immersed in the Hmong culture by living with them.
Each chapter in the book discusses each part of Lia Lee’s life and how the culture she brought up in is affecting her health. The first chapter gives a first look at the Hmong culture. It talks about rituals that are very important when giving births and the first few months of the child’s life. The chapter also shows the problems hospital workers have with the Hmong patients with diagnosis due to the language barrier. Signing paperwork is a big issue because not many Hmong people speak English, they do not know what they are signing, and no one is there to interpret it to them. The second chapter talks about history between the Hmong and the Chinese. The relationship between them was hostile. The Chinese saw the Hmong as rebellious and tried to take over their culture, which often failed. Although the Hmong were small in numbers compared to the Chinese, they often defeated them in war. Through all the battles with the Chinese, they do not like being forced into a different culture other than their own. They are stubborn when it comes to forcing or persuaded into something other than the culture they are used to.
Chapter three begins with seems to be from the Hmong perspective the cause of Lia’s epilepsy. Her older sister slams the front door, and Lia fainted. The loud sound scared her soul and left her body (Fadiman 1988). In the Hmong culture, someone who has epilepsy is seen as divine. The seizures show that the person as the ability to perceive things that others cannot (Fadiman 1988). The chapter also discusses the first few visits the Lee family made to the Merced County Medical Center. Chapter four talks the things that the Hmong find odd about the American Medical system. The Hmong people were very curious about the way the American doctors did things. Even when they were placed in the Thai camps, much of the treatments that were offered were not used because they did not follow their rituals. Dwight Conquergood, and ethnographer decided to use the Hmong way to get the dogs in the camp to get rabies shots. A Rabies Parade was held using characters from the Hmong folktales (Fadiman 1988). This chapter explains that the Hmong people would be more open to other medical treatments if they felt that each side what being equal and fair towards one another. Chapters five through seven...
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