I still remember one of the first Hmong Shamanist superstitions that Lee had introduced me to many years ago.
(Image provided by Michelle Radtke, imageide@s)
It was on a moonlit night as we walked down the snow-covered football field when, as one does in such a situation, I felt amorous and poetic. I pointed at moon, about to remark on its beauty and luminescence, when naturally, Lee quickly licked her fingers and began rubbing my nearest earlobe with them while chanting in Hmong.
I was stunned. Mortified. And her explanation, unfortunately, did little to sooth me. In English, her chant “quav qaib, quav npua, quav nyuj, quav twm,” as she explained, could be translated as: ‘chicken poop, pig poop, cow poop, buffalo poop.’ Certainly true love right there.
Having my earlobe covered in spit (in that fashion anyway) was a particularly memorable and new experience for me, and yet it is a belief shared by many Hmong-Americans today, poop and all.
In Mai Bao’s blog, A Hmong Woman, she explains that Hmong Shamanists practice this in order to prevent one’s ears from getting cut by a vengeful moon ‘spirit’. When Lee had given that explanation to me, I was taken aback. I recalled a similar story from my own Chinese upbringing.
As explained in Sparklewolfie’s post on Taiwanese Tradition: Moon Festival, Chinese superstition holds that the woman on the moon, Chang E, cuts the ear of those who dare point her way.
A similar story and belief, albeit one lacking in animism and poop. Of course the similarities are not too far-fetched, given that to this day, people still argue about China’s role in Hmong history- more specifically, if the Hmong people can be considered Chinese.
What does this all mean then? Could much of Hmong Shamanist superstitions be, like their cuisine, derived from the other religions of Asia?
When I had asked Lee as much, I was met with a contemptuous smirk and a cold shoulder, but after all, is it really that much of a stretch to see that perhaps the addition of animals to the ‘moon’ superstition stems from Hmong Shamanism’s animist traditions? The ‘poop’ part, however, still confuses me.
Throughout my time with Lee, we had spoken at length about the various Hmong Shamanist superstitions that she fears, such as one involving looking between one’s legs in order to see a spirit, which has also been mentioned on Inprogress301’s video, aptly titled ’Hmong Superstitions.’
What I find interesting about that particular Hmong superstition is that it certainly has at least one precedent in Thai culture. Take Bandung Life for example, which lists that belief among Thailand’s many superstitions, or even the absolutely banal Thailand-set ’The Eye 10’ for that matter, which likewise pays tribute to that particular belief.
Given that many Hmong tribes and clans today are dispersed around much of South-East Asia, the connection therein is not a hard one to make. Much like Lee, who was born in small village in Thailand before immigrating to the United States, the Hmong culture, its food, and even its people can be seen as quite a diverse mix- a melting pot if you will.
That tradition carries over to this day, when many Hmong Americans are slowly beginning to adopt certain beliefs familiar to the Western world. Consider ’Teen Hmoob’, a Hmong newsletter aimed at Hmong teenagers (naturally), where one will find a section devoted to Hmong superstition, where Asian beliefs, such as the two aforementioned ones, are listed beside walking under ladders and breaking mirrors.
But which superstitions in the Hmong Shamanist culture then can be truly called their own? Or perhaps the better question might be where did those cited cultures receive their own superstitions? Though the subject begs for more questions than it does offer answers, this much can be said: Hmong Shamanism and its superstitions is truly a global culture, a culture we all share, in metaphorical sense, under the same moon.
‘Don’t point at the moon,’ Lee has told me, and to this day I have certainly listened to her advice; not for fear of a cut, but of poop.