The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
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Theme of cultural dissonance
The Hmong religious belief in shamanistic animism asserts that malevolent spirits are constantly seeking human souls, especially those of vulnerable or unloved children. In Hmong culture, epilepsy is referred to as qaug dab peg (translated in English, "the spirit catches you and you fall down"), in which epileptic attacks are perceived as evidence of the epileptic's ability to enter and journey momentarily into the spirit realm. In Hmong society, this ability must be used to help others. Qaug dab peg is often considered an honorable condition and many Hmong shamans are epileptics, believed to have been chosen as the host to a healing spirit, which allows them to communicate and negotiate with the spirit realm in order to act as public healers to the physically and emotionally sick. In addition to these beliefs, Hmong also have many customs and folkways that are contradicted by those of the American mainstream and medical communities; for example, some Hmong traditionally perform ritual animal sacrifice and because of very specific burial traditions and the fear of each human's many souls possibly escaping, the traditional Hmong beliefs do not allow for anyone going through invasive medical surgery.
In the U.S., the medical community rarely has ways to communicate with people of cultures so radically different from mainstream American culture; even a good translator will find it difficult interpreting concepts between the two different cultures' world-concepts. American doctors, unlike Hmong shamans, often physically touch and cut into the bodies of their patients and use a variety of powerful drugs and medicines.