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March 24 , 2008

Calling in the Soul

Gender and the Cycle of Life in a Hmong Village


"Calling in the Soul" (Hu Plig) is the chant the Hmong use to guide the soul of a newborn baby into its body on the third day after birth. Based on extensive original research conducted in the late 1980s in a village 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 considers the gender relationships evident in these practices. The Hmong (or Miao, as they are called in China, and Meo, in Thailand) have lived on the fringes of powerful Southeast Asian states for centuries. Their social framework is distinctly patrilineal, granting little direct power to women. Yet within the limits of that structure, Hmong women wield considerable influence in the spiritually critical realms of birth and death. Calling in the Soul will be of interest to sociocultural anthropologists, medical anthropologists, Southeast Asianists, and gender specialists.

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