Jess Gick

I originally wanted to be a part of the Hmong Shamanism project to learn more about the religion and culture of the Hmong people. Before I came to Carleton, I had not heard of the Hmong; however, after four years at Carleton, most of my good friends are Hmong, and I am a proud member of the Coalition of Hmong Students (CHS), a student-led on-campus group promoting Hmong awareness. Because I had already been very generously accepted into the Hmong community at Carleton before starting this project, I was privileged to enjoy opportunities that other strangers may not have had. I often reflected on that privelege while I attended events or heard personal stories.

In the course of this project, I have learned so much about Hmong Shamanism in the Twin Cities, but I think for me, as a white American, one of the aspects of Hmong religiosity that I found most interesting was the relationship between the public and private spheres during ceremonies. During the hu plig (“soul-calling ceremony”), physical space is not static but fluid; as the shaman conducts his or her rituals, children and adults continually move inside and outside the house. Family members and friends continuously arrive at the house while the rituals are being conducted; upon arriving, they may migrate to either another room, or outside. At the hu plig  for Koua’s one-year-old nephew, the women went to the kitchen to cook, the children to the backyard to play, and the men to the garage to butcher the cow. This movement from inside to outside the house brought the hu plig to transcend from the private sphere of the home to the semi-public sphere of the backyard. Furthermore, during the ceremony the shaman, standing at the threshold of the front door, shakes a txiab neeb (“ceremonial rattle”) and so visually and acoustically brings the ceremony to the outside world.

Another aspect of Hmong religiosity I found to be intriguing as an ethnic outsider was the extent to which believers in Hmong Shamanism differed in their in the strength of their beliefs in Shamanism. For example, though “John” Moua, who was chosen to become a Shaman, he stated that he “personally does not want to become a Shaman”[1] that he “is a bad son” for not actively participating in two of the recent shamanistic events conducted at his house.[2] Pa Chee Vang stated that, she “is not a strong believer in Shamanism” because she believes that it “works for [only illness that] are both psychological and physical” rather than, for example, “a torn A.C.L. or internal bleeding”.[3] Both Amend Moua and Kia Yang discussed the idea that Shamanism is more of a placebo effect than a concrete way to heal, though the former spoke in favor of Shamanism as placebo,[4] while latter, against this idea[5]. Furthermore, as conveyed by John Moua and Judy Yang, at least some Shamans and soon-to-be Shamans in the Hmong community express a belief that the future of Hmong Shamanism in America looks bleak, because the younger generations are not carrying on this tradition with the vigor necessary to allow for the preservation of this religion so different from those practiced in mainstream America.[6]

[1] “John” Moua, interviewed by Jess Gick and Yer Moua, June 4, 2013, Northfield, MN.

[2]  “John” Moua, interviewed by Jess Gick and Yer Moua, May 22, 2013, Northfield, MN.

[3] Pa Chee Vang, interviewed by Jess Gick. May 22, 2013, Northfield, MN.

[4] Amend Moua, interviewed by Jess Gick, Koua Her and Yer Moua, May 9, 2013, Northfield, MN.

[5] Kia Yang, interviewed by Jess Gick and Yer Moua, May 22, 2013, Northfield, MN.

[6] “John” Moua, May 22, 2013; Judy Yang, interviewed by Koua Her, Jess Gick and Yer Moua, June 2, 2013, St. Paul, MN.