A Cultural Theme in The Spirit Catches You, And You Fall Book

Published: 2017-11-06
A Cultural Theme in The Spirit Catches You, And You Fall Book
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Culture
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1282 words
11 min read

“The spirit catches you, and you fall” book majorly concentrates on how cultural barriers existed between Lia Lee's parents of Hmong and the Medical Practitioners of the Western which resulted in the state that Lia Lee was experiencing as a consequence of the unsuccessful treatment plan. Each of the chapters in this book talked about cultural aspects of Hmong including the vegetative food that they take, the family composition and structure, rituals that are related to births, the Hmong language, and many others. The paper thus focuses on the theme of culture as shown in this book.

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The Hmong ethnic group was made up of the hill tribes. The tribe mainly practiced agriculture mostly in the highlands of China, Vietnam, and Laos. Their traditional food mostly grown in these areas includes vegetables, rice, and herbs. Besides, they also included rear chicken and pork in their agricultural activities. The family of Lee found themselves in the United States from their home village in Laos in 1975 when the American war in Vietnam ended. Cultural difference played a significant role in the manner in which the family of Lee and the medics from the West struggled to help Lia’s sickness (epilepsy). One of the aspects of the Hmong culture in an attempt to locate the origin of Lai’s illness and find the solution to other diseases is through the spiritual causes. According to Lee’s culture and customs, the epilepsy is something that was caused by what they believed strongly as the soul living the body. For the case of Lia, qaug dab peg (the spirit catches you, and you fall down) symptoms recognized from Lia, and this was noticed just some moments after her elder sister Yer slamming of the family living room door when she was entering the house through the front door of their apartment. In the views of her parents, during the slam of the door that was the time when Lia’s soul flew away from her body. According to the author's notes, lee’s culture makes its people so absentminded with medical issues due to their belief of well-being in the life they are living and the after life’s expectations. Hmong’s are concerned more with how they keep their soul from wandering and how they can stay without getting sick but in the event of their passing way. They trust that their souls have to find their way home done by tracing the steps that they have made traveling from where they were born “their very beginning” (Fadiman, 1997). The Hmong believed that the souls of their departed families would have to travel for a long time before reaching to their destinations. This is because the souls have to trace each and every step followed back to the village. According to the author these steps are from all the stops that they have made from their present camp in Merced till they reach the refugee camps located in Thai and then finally get to their villages back home (Fadiman, 1997).

According to Fadiman, the Hmong traditions did not recognize a Western medicine, and they had no idea of it, the Hmong first encounter such kind of treatment at their first refugee camp that was in Thai. The Hmong believed that illness was always as a result of various sources including drinking of contaminated water, eating the wrong food, one not able to ejaculate completely during sexual intercourse, among other causes including doing an unacceptable thing to the dab. They believed strongly in the spiritual healing and their ritual in shaman which was known to them as Neeb. The rituals of the Hmong people entailed the use of numerous mechanisms to make the evil spirit (dabs) happy the ways including sacred animals and the methods of healings which are used to locate lost souls. Because of these beliefs and practices, there did exist a conflict of interest between the Hmong culture and the western healing process. People of Hmong who were living in Merced did not embrace medication as provided by the Western because according to their belief it could result into loss of souls. The author noted that such medications might make the soul wander as the activities done by the western medics tampered with the body which is not a good thing according to their customs and practices. The beliefs the Hmong did not have to compile with what was being prescribed by the doctors and this act frustrated the MCMC doctors whenever they were trying to save their lives. Nobody was able to free their customs even if both parties intended well for the other (Fadiman, 1997).

According to Fadiman, the fate of Lia was dictated primarily by what we come to understand as the cultural misunderstanding. The author came up with suggestions that were meant to bridge the gap that existed between the beliefs of the Hmong and the Medics in MCMC, and this was made when she was working with Lia’s parents Foua and Nao Kao and the MCMC doctors. She recommends that there should be what is known as medical pluralism this is because according to Hmong the western medicine didn’t have all the needed answers to illness and cannot heal everyone. According to Nao Kao, “the doctors could fix some sickness that involves the blood and body, but for Hmong, some just got sick due to their soul, and for that reason, they strongly required spiritual attempt, yet Western medicine could not provide. So in Lia’s situation, there was a need for the small use of medicine and a bit of Neeb, the use of a great quantity of medicine lowered the effect of neeb (Fadiman, 1997). The method would have work for Lia’s situation. Foua strongly felt that the western doctors would not allow them to give a small amount of medicine this is because they failed to understand much of the soul. If they had tried mixing neeb and the medication they were prescribing they would have convinced Lee’s family that the amount of medicine given was beneficial to the Lia (Fadiman, 1997).

The Lees reflected their attitude towards Lia’s seizures with a mixture of concern and pride. It is because they were known for their nice ways of treating their children, the children according to their culture have been addressed with gentleness and a lot of love. Moreover, children were never meant to be abused in any way, this was because of what the Hmong people believed, and accept as true that a dab might decide to take a child mistreated, with the assumption that the child is not wanted. Foua and Nao Kao continued to nature Lia in a distinctive Hmong ways of life, and the parents were naturally distressed whenever they thought that anything might happen to compromise the health and her happiness of Lia. The parents hoped beyond hopes that the qaug dab peg would go away, on the other hand, they had to consider that kind of illness as an honor.


According to their culture, that sort of disease seen as anointing as one of the Royals. It made her a very special individual in the culture because she possessed this spirit and that she might grow up a shaman, and this is one of the reasons they never think much of medical attention but a blessing to the family (Fadiman, 1997).


Fadiman, A. (1997). Th Spirit catches you and you fall down: A hmong child, her american doctors, and the collision of two cultures. New York: MacMillan.

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