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Calling in the soul

gender and the cycle of life in a Hmong village

Patricia V. Symonds

Publication Year: 2013

Based on research in northern Thailand, this ethnographic study examines Hmong cosmological beliefs about the cycle of life as expressed in practices surrounding birth, marriage, and death, and the gender relationships evident in these practices.

Published by: University of Washington Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

My interest in Hmong birthing practices began in 1979, when I was collecting medical histories from women at a clinic for low-income patients in Providence, Rhode Island. Many of these women were Hmong refugees from the hills of Laos. Few of them spoke English, and even fewer came in for early prenatal care. They were apprehensive...

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pp. xiii-xv

This book could not have been written without the help of many people. First I owe a great debt to my Hmong friends, assistants, and “teachers” in the United States and Thailand: to all of them I say, “Ua tsaug ntau kuv cov phooj ywg. Kuv muab phau ntaw no rau nej sawv daws.” Some I must thank...

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Notes On Orthography of the Hmong Language

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pp. xvii-xviii

The Hmong have an oft-told tale about the destruction of an ancient written form of their language. They say that once they had a great book, filled with knowledge about life and the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. But this book was eaten by hungry cows and rats (Cooper et al., 1991:42), and...

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Introduction: Conducting Research In a Hmong Village

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pp. xix-xlix

From January 1987 to May 1988, I lived in a Hmong community— which I will call Flower Village—in the mountains of northern Thailand, conducting anthropological field research. I especially wanted to discover how Hmong women understand the world, specifically how they perceive childbirth, but initially I did not make...

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1. Hmong Cosmology: A Balance of Opposites

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pp. 3-35

Very little has been written on Hmong perceptions of birth, even though the Hmong view of life is cyclical and encompasses both birth and death, and a considerable amount of literature is available on death and reincarnation.1 In his preface to a translation of a Hmong death ritual chant...

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2. Mothers, Daughters, and Wives

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pp. 36-76

In March of 1988 I attended a wedding in Flower Village. Many villagers had gathered in the bride’s parents’ house, not only for the ceremony itself, but for the long and noisy negotiations (in this case, three days) that precede Hmong weddings. The festivities ended when the young groom and bride left to go...

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3. Birth: The Journey to the Land of Light

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pp. 77-109

During my first stay in Flower Village, twenty-six babies were born. About six months into my stay, women began to trust me enough to invite me to births. I then attended six births, usually because I was friendly with either the young woman herself or her mother-in-law. They would let me know when...

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4. Death: The Journey to the Land of Darkness

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pp. 110-162

On the third day of life, the vital soul journeys from the land of darkness to the land of light, guided by the soul-calling chant. At death another chant guides the souls back to the land of darkness (Lemoine 1983b:6–8), to join the ancestors and await rebirth...

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5. Reflections on Power, Gender, and the Cycle of Life

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pp. 163-174

For the Hmong, parenthood is the path to fulfillment in this world and the means toward peace as an ancestor in the afterlife. It is the reproductive power of women and the subsequent existence of children— both daughters, whose bride-price makes it possible for their brothers to marry and have their own...

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Epilogue: HIV/AIDS and the Hmong in Thailand

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pp. 175-187

For over a century the Hmong have lived in the northern mountains of Thailand, on the periphery of the dominant Thai political and economic sectors in the lowlands. Although they have never been completely isolated, in the 1950s the Hmong, like other highlanders, experienced the incursion of various outside...

Appendix A: “Hu Plig” (Calling in the Soul): Hmong Text

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pp. 189-192

Appendix B: “Showing the Way” (Qhuab Kev): English Translation

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pp. 193-238

Appendix C: “Qhuab Kev” (Showing the Way): Hmong Text

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pp. 239-269

Appendix D: Flower Village Demographics

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pp. 270-273

Appendix E: A Shamanic Healing in the United States

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pp. 274-275

Appendix F: Health Care and Gender Issues of Hmong in the United States

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pp. 276-278


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pp. 279-288


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pp. 289-313


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pp. 314-326

E-ISBN-13: 9780295800424
E-ISBN-10: 0295800429
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295983394
Print-ISBN-10: 0295983396

Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 828869762
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Calling in the soul

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Hmong (Asian people) -- Thailand, Northern -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Women, Hmong -- Thailand, Northern -- Social conditions.
  • Sex role -- Thailand, Northern.
  • Sexual division of labor -- Thailand, Northern.
  • Patrilineal kinship -- Thailand, Northern.
  • Thailand, Northern -- Social life and customs.
  • Hmong Americans -- Social life and customs.
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