He adds that “he is also enlightened by the puppy sacrifice because the Native Americans have also sacrificed dogs for their sun dances long before the ‘American way’ was established.”
Hmong Shamanism – Final Proposal
My research explores the relationship between some of the Hmong’s religious beliefs and criticism in America. Is an individual, no matter his or her race, only allowed to believe in one religion that seems ‘ethical’ to everybody? Does having a different religion or belief in America really mean that you’re not following the “American ways?” And, because of one’s beliefs is different from many others’, does that mean he or she should be ‘sent back’ to his or her origin? These questions are important because every group has a different belief, and before one judges about another being Christian, Mormon, or Polytheist, he or she should get to know the history behind it.
In UK PubMed Central, an electronic journal dedicated to providing information to medical students, an article called “Hmong shamanism. Animist spiritual healing in Minnesota,” the authors, Gregory A. Plotnikoff, Charles Numrich, Deu Yang, and Phua Xioing spent two years interviewing Hmong shamans and patients. They explain that the “Hmong cultural attitudes, values, and behaviors influence when, where, and why a Hmong person will use Western medicine.” They explain that there was a myth about how the Hmong people came to practice their shamanistic ways. The myth stated that before the world started, there was a prophet, named Shee Yee. The authors stated that he had the ability to “cure the sick.” However, one day, he had to return to heaven to learn more about the shamanistic practices. They claimed that “when he was able to learn more, he threw the tools, used for shaman rituals, down to earth.” And, only those who are pure and kind-hearted will receive those items and follow the process in becoming a shaman. The authors of this article also believe that “a physician must understand the practices and importance of Hmong healing traditions to help provide respectful and effective health care to Hmong patients.” However, to clarify, not all Hmong are shamanism, as not all Asians are Chinese. There are about half to the majority of the Hmong population that don’t practice shamanism anymore. There are Hmong that are Christian, Catholic, and much more. The authors describe that “Hmong shamanism maintains its role in health and healing.” However, to become a shaman is by fate and ability. For one to become a shaman, one must receive the powers through his or her ancestral spirits. They stated that “one cannot simply become a shaman through just practicing alone because you need to have the spiritual teachers, whom are your ancestral spirits, teach you the way. One of the shamans they interviewed stated that she “cannot see the spirits, but can tell in her mind what they look like and can point them out, as to who is who.” However, every shaman differs because some other shamans have also claimed that they do actually see the spirits. The authors stated that “when one is sick, he or she may also rely on shamans to restore his or health, along with seeing a physician.” They claim that “the shaman has the ability to balance one’s body and soul, while the physician is able to target it.”
In the book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down,” the author, Anne Fadiman, analyzes the Hmong’s shamanism beliefs, along with whether or not they rely on Western Medicine. Fadiman states that “physicians have invested an incredible amount of time and energy in their training, and they have been taught that what they’ve learned in medical school is the only legitimate way to approach health problems. And because of this, some doctors go through the roof when Hmong patients reject what we have to offer them, and it makes us think that Western medicine doesn’t have much to offer us.”
In a YouTube video called “The Spiritual Healing of Hmong Shamanism,” it explains thoroughly about how shamanism still exists. Xiong Pao Lee, a Hmong shaman, explained that “he was approached by spirits to guide him back and forth between two worlds at the age of 17.” The spirits lead him to the other world, where he is able to meet with those who are deceased and the living’s souls. Dr. Kathy Culhane-Pera, a family physician, reveals that “she came across Hmong shamanism in 1989.” She was trying to get pregnant at that time. She adds that “she has tried medicine and shots that the doctor prescribed, but they weren’t working.” During that time, she was in Thailand, visiting the Hmong villagers and discussed the issues. The shaman has said he was willing to help her by performing a ritual. Her husband, Tim Pera, admits “he was skeptical about it because they have already tried so many treatments and they didn’t work.” But, they decided to perform the ritual and after that, Dr. Culhane-Pera became pregnant. Lee states that “he cannot tell what he sees behind the ceremony because it is ‘a gift’ to become a shaman.” Because of half of the Hmong population’s beliefs in Christianity and the other half in Shamanism, no one really knows which is better. Dr. Culhane-Pera states that “she doesn’t know which to believe either, but to be able to have her daughter after the ritual, there is a ‘warm spot’ in her heart towards shamanism.”
In Los Angeles Times, an electronic newspaper site, Mark Arax, one of the staff writers, discusses the controversy against Hmong shamanism in the article, “Hmong’s Sacrifice of Puppy Reopens Cultural.” Arax states that a lot of America citizens, who were not Hmong, were outraged by the sacrifice of a puppy for a shaman ritual. He notes that “Chia Thai Moua, a Hmong shaman from Fresno, sacrificed a chicken and a pig to serve the angry spirit, in which he believed was vexing his wife’s health.” However, the evil spirit wasn’t willing to accept anything, except a puppy. So, he bought a three month-old dog and killed it. But, before he was able to continue with the process, one of his neighbors has called the police. The local community members of Los Angeles were disappointed to hear about Moua sacrificing a puppy and thought it was unethical. Because of this issue, a lot of letters were sent to the local newspaper saying that “Hmong refugees should move back to Laos if they couldn’t adhere to the American way.”
As to why the evil spirit only accepted a puppy, the article, “A Physician’s Guide for Understanding Hmong Healthcare Beliefs,” by University of Minnesota, published in 2004, the authors stated that “every spirit, whether good or evil, differs.” Some may have a reason for causing a person’s sickness, while others may not. They stated that “there are many things, as to what the evil spirits want.” Sometimes, they may be in need of spirit money, which are known as joss paper. However, there are often times that they will require a certain animal to be sacrificed. The authors stated that “what the animals are used for, the shamans will not tell, for they have to keep the two worlds separate.” However, to assure everyone, they stated that “a shaman will not simply sacrifice an animal for no reason.” There are many different rituals performed and two of them are called ua neeb saib and ua neeb kho. Ua neeb saib roughly translates to “perform a ritual to observe.” The authors stated that “before a shaman can ua neeb kho, which means to ‘perform a ritual to heal,’ he will ua neeb saib to see what exactly is wrong with the person’s soul.” If he finds that there is anything needed to be sacrificed to regain the person’s health, he will then carry on with the ritual to heal the individual.
After that article was published and hearing about all the letters sent to the Los Angeles Times, regarding Chia Thai Moua, Ray C. Doyah, a Native American, writes a letter to the Los Angeles Times toexpress how he feels about the controversy regarding the puppy sacrifice and shaman ritual. He states that “after reading the article, he feels annoyed because of the letters advising Hmong to move back to Laos for not being able to follow the American way.” He adds that “he is also enlightened by the puppy sacrifice because the Native Americans have also sacrificed dogs for their sun dances long before the ‘American way’ was established.” He asserts that “if Europeans brought their culture and values to a foreign land, why can’t the Hmong people also do the same?” Drawing back to the First Amendment of religious freedom, Chia Thai Moua believes that it is his right to be able to perform ceremonies that pertained to his beliefs. He has stated that “he will use that to defend himself in court” because is religious freedom not the reason why many of us came to America?
Thus, we learned that not all Hmong seeks enlightenment in shamanism, for there is also a vast majority of the people, converted to other religions, such as Christianity, Catholic, or Mormon. While many American citizens were outraged by the Hmong shamanism beliefs of sacrificing animals, the practice of animal sacrifice has been long dwelled in America before any of the settlers arrived.
Although it seems like the Hmong shamanism’s way of sacrificing animals was greatly stressed in the public about how “unethical” it is to do so, more research is needed to find out why exactly the shamans do so. It will also be exciting to find out if everyone is able to understand and accept other religious beliefs that they have not heard of.