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Chapter 1

ANTC61H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Umbilical Cord, Amniotic Sac, Insecticide


Department
Anthropology
Course Code
ANTC61H3
Professor
Sikstrom
Chapter
1

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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Preface/Chapter 1
Preface
Read the preface. It is brief, but it provides a
good introduction to the issues Fadiman is
exploring in the book, namely that her exploration
of Lia’s case and the intersection of two ‘cultures’
(American medicine and Hmong), led her to see
that it is less an issue of taking sides and more about
understanding the complexity of that intersection.
This is what she means by saying that she came to
see it in “less linear terms” and thinking “a little less
like an American and a little more like a Hmong”
(viii).
Chapter 1: Birth
1. What is a txiv neeb?
Shaman
-If Hmong failed to prod. children the
shaman would enter a trance, summon
helpful familiars, ride a winged horse over
the twelve mountains b/w earth and the sky,
cross an ocean inhabited by dragons, and
(starting with bribes of food and money,
working up to a necromantic sword)
negotiate for his patents’ health with the
spirits who lived in the realm of the unseen
-Can cure infertility by asking the couple
to sacrifice a dog, cat, chicken or sheep; a/f
animal’s throat is cut, shaman would string a
rope bridge from the doorpost to the
marriage bed over which the soul of the
couple’s future baby (detained by a
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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Preface/Chapter 1
malevolent spirit called a dab) could freely
travel to earth
2. What is a dab?
Malevolent spirit
-Can cause infertility (see above)
also if women of a childbearing age
visited a cave, a particular kind of dab who
liked to eat flesh and drink blood could
make his victim sterile by having sex with
her
-If a woman cannot give birth in her own
house it is important to give birth in the
house of one of her husband’s cousins;
anywhere else and a dab might injure her
-Illness can be caused by a dab: having
one’s blood sucked by a dab, bumping into a
dab who lives in a tress or stream, digging a
well in a dab’s living place, catching sight
of a dwarf female dab who eats earthworms,
having a dab sit on your chest while you are
sleeping
-Dab can steal a baby’s soul (some Hmong
are careful to never say a baby is pretty
aloud incase a dab hears)
3. What is the significance of the placenta in
Hmong culture?
The word for placenta means jacket; it is
ones first and finest garment
-When a Hmong dies his/her soul has to
travel back from place to place retracing its
life geography until it reaches the burial place
of its placental jacket and puts it on
with jacket: continue its journey past
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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Preface/Chapter 1
murderous dabs, giant poisonous caterpillars,
man-eating rocks, impassable oceans to the
place beyond the sky to meet with ancestors
and from where it will be sent to be reborn as
the soul of a new baby
without jacket: will wander naked and
alone for eternity
-A/f birth the father digs a hole and buries
the placenta
boy: placenta buried in a place of
greater honour than a girl (near the base of
the houses central wooden pillar where a
domestic guardian-spirit holds up the roof of
the house and watches over the house’s
residents)
girl: placenta buried under parents’
bed
* if baby’s face erupted in spots =
placenta was being attacked by ants u/g
and boiling water was poured into the
hole as insecticide
4. How was Lia’s birth different than those of
her siblings who were born in Lao or
Thailand?
Lia was born in the MCMC (hospital); the
rest were hand delivered by Foua
-Others: she controlled her own labour,
alone, cut the umbilical cord, washed the
baby herself
-Lia: *placenta was not buried anywhere -
incinerated, Foua’s labour was controlled by
the doctors (ruptured her amniotic sac to
speed the labour, received a dose of Picocin
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