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The Split Horn Essay Writing

Anthropology Class Notes 4/30/08 “The Split Horn: Life of a Hmong Shaman in America” Video shows shaman from old country doing ritualistic dance. “Dad wonders whether the spirit of the shamans will go to his sons or his daughters when he dies like it did for him.” In America there are very few new shamans. Many Hmongs start taking on American values. Talk of how they have accepted western medicine rather than doing ceremonies with a chicken. “I don’t know what would happen to the Hmong spirit without the shaman.” The parents are sad that his kids aren’t following the Hmong traditions in the United States but understand that is what happens. Dad (Paja) does a special ceremony to see if his children’s souls have wandered. Hmong believe that the souls of animals and humans are closely connected. Each family chooses a colored seed to represent their soul. The father hits a gong against the drum holding the seeds and encouraging the seeds to come to the hole in the center of the drumhead. The father’s seed is the only one that doesn’t return for a very long time and he worries that he is going to be sick and then goes into a deep shamanic trance to find and wrestle for his lost soul. He has to have his cousins help him since his children won’t. After the ceremony, he is quite depressed. The Hmong don’t want to give up their traditions. Because the parents become quite ill, the father asks his Great Aunt to perform a shamanic ritual for them. They wait for two months before the ritual is performed. They sacrifice a cow to call Paja’s spirit home. They sacrifice a pig to appease the mother’s spirit. They tie strings around their wrists to keep their souls bound to Earth. This is a very emotional ceremony for all in attendance. The father was














THE SPLIT HORN is the sweeping story of a Hmong shaman and his family living in Appleton, Wisconsin. Documenting the 17-year journey of Paja Thao and his family from the mountains of Laos to the heartland of America, this poignant film shows a shaman's struggles to maintain his ancient traditions as his children embrace American culture.

The Hmong ("mung") are an Asian tribal culture. After fighting valiantly for the United States in the Vietnam War, many Hmong like the Thao family were forced to flee their homeland in Southeast Asia. Since 1975, over 200,000 Hmong refugees have resettled in the U.S.


top: Paja Thao in shamanic trance

Middle: Paja's daughter Chai

Bottom: Paja's son Koualy with daughter

For over 17 years since the family arrived in America, filmmaker Taggart Siegel has chronicled the intimate and private lives of Paja Thao, his wife and their 13 children. THE SPLIT HORN focuses on Paja, a shaman whose spiritual leadership plays a vital role in Appleton's Hmong community. He ministers to the physical and spiritual needs of friends and family with elaborate rituals that bridge the natural and spirit worlds. As his children grow up, however, they are losing touch with their father's ancient traditions. In a pivotal scene, Paja, wearing a black veil, dances on a wooden bench, shaking and chanting in an ecstatic trance. Across the room, three of his children lounge on the sofa, transfixed by The Simpsons and MTV, ignoring the ancient spirit battle played out by their father.

Chai, the shaman's 12-year-old daughter, is caught between the richlytraditional world of her parents and the complicated life of a typicalAmerican teenager. As the film's narrator, Chai shows viewers thecollision of cultures taking place in her house and in the Hmong-Americancommunity.

A year of sadness leads Paja to conduct a ceremony for his family during which he discovers that his own soul has strayed from his body. He spirals into a depression, unable to heal himself or others. The community, worried by Paja's depression, asks two shaman friends to lead a healing ceremony for him. The Thao children come together, putting aside their religious differences to support their father and mother. One of the older sons, Koualy, returns to Hmong tradition after 14 years and helps his father with the ceremony. Paja beams with joy and renewed strength.

THE SPLIT HORN, which can be watched in the Hmong language on SAP (Secondary Audio Program), captures the daily struggle of a family caught between two worlds and examines the intergenerational rift between immigrant parents desperate to maintain their ancient traditions while their children embrace American lifestyles.

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