Growing Up with Shamans

Ia Vang

Growing up with shamans in the household either helps qualify one’s belief in Hmong Shamanism or not. The spirit healers, khua neeb, who "call" people to become shamans, can be very powerful and very insistent.  Whether it is through dreams or one’s five senses, one’s khua neeb wants to show them everything. Sometimes, one’s khua neeb can be delayed, but doing so may cause physical pain.Here, we provide two accounts of individuals who grew up with shamans within their households.

Shamans run in the family of Ia Vang.  Her grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather were all shamans. Her parents are shamans and her sister is in the process of becoming a shaman.“ But becoming a shaman is hardly automatic.  To become a shaman in her family, Vang related that the selected one "has to be sick in some way, such as having a sore pain.” Unidentified pains, or conditions resistant to ordinary medicine or healing can be usually indicator that one is being called to become a shaman.  Both of Ia’s parents experienced this: 

“I remember this one time that my dad’s leg hurt --it’s called “crazy leg” -- and it hurt him so much that they went to talk to another shaman, who said that he had to start becoming a shaman in that he needed to do the practices. He was around five years old.” – Ia Vang

Ia’s grandfather did not want to be a shaman.  But there were indicators of his calling to. He got sick and lived through a stroke, than a second stroke.  “It’s amazing how he’s still alive," Vang said, "doctors could not fully explain to us why he had his second stroke.”

Ia's sister's process of becoming a shaman has also been witnessed her sister’s process.  Pang Cha experienced her first encounter with her khua neeb in college.  Her spirits were so strong that it led her to paranoia.

“She would get really paranoid to the point that she has to put things on the ground [to prevent anyone] from standing there, so that nobody could touch this. My parents [decided] that we needed to do a shaman thing for her, and [it revealed that] her khua neeb wants something out of her; she can’t avoid it.” – Ia Vang

With shamans all around her, Ia believes in Hmong Shamanism and sees great value in it.  It’s real for her because she can differentiate when Pang Cha is herself and when Pang Cha’s khua neeb is taking over.  Her parents also help her confirm her belief in Shamanism.  Growing up with shamans has its pros and cons: healing in exchange for pain.

John Moua

John Moua is currently postponing the responsibilities of Shamanism with the help of his father who is a shaman.  Due to John being a college student, his father ties John’s khua neeb with his and feeds John’s spirits along with his own.  The reason why Shamans get sick is because their khua neeb are not being fed.  Shamans show respect for their khua neeb by performing rituals and burning them carefully constructed "paper money," or "spirit money."

“First I had a lot of back pain: crippling, debilitating. I had a lot of pain; the doctors did not know what was wrong. Being Hmong, [shamans] did a ritual, and they saw that I was supposed to be a shaman.” – John Moua

John doesn’t know what goes on during a trance.  He observes his father from time to time, but is not completely sure how his father found the energy to perform for so long. A typical trance for his father lasts two to three hours.

“When I was seven and was curious about the ritual. I asked my brothers: 'how does Dad have the energy to do this? He speaks so fast!' They replied, 'he has a ghost with him, a spirit.' And from that day on, I never looked at him the same way again! Oh my God, you have a ghost! [Laughs]. You’re not my Dad!” – John Moua

Other than the constant back pain, John has not experienced anything much because, as he put it, his father hasn’t fully released John’s khua neeb to him.  John does not want to become a shaman.  Wanting to be a doctor in Western medicine, he is somewhat skeptical of the effectiveness of Hmong Shamanism.