Qaug Dab Peg or Epilepsy? Maybe both!
By Pa Britney Xiong
     Who can say what the Hmong people "believe?" Some of us have been in America all our lives and others have just arrived.  Some believe in the old religion of our people from the hills of Asia, and others are Christians. Many of us have combined the old ways of our people with the new ways of our adopted country: seeking the shaman, family elders, or the clan leader to help us stay in balance with ourselves and our community, but perhaps also attending services or Sunday Mass to find community with our new neighbors and fellow believers.
      For the past two years, I have been working with the Wisconsin Seizure Control Network to help Hmong people better understand epilepsy and assist families in getting help if their children are having seizures. Our people have always believed that a seizure means "
qaug dab peg," that a bad spirit has grabbed you and knocked you down. In the old country, we had no doctors, only the shaman, and they would try to help the person who has wrestled with the spirit. Often the person who had been "seized" would himself become a shaman, because he now has some knowledge about the spirit world and might be able to help others with this knowledge.
      Regardless of why a child had a seizure, it is important to know how they can be helped by American medicine to have a healthy, happy childhood. We are working with Hmong communities around the state to make sure that children are diagnosed as early as possible to get the help they need, and that their families and communities understand that epilepsy does not have to impact future success in life.
      How are we doing this? We have been serving as a "bridge" for people to call and talk with a Hmong person if they need help or know of a family who does.  We are also part of the Southeast Asian Community Outreach Consortium, a network of agencies working together to find ways to reach out to the Milwaukee-area community to help those with any disability. We are also working closely with the staff of the Medical College of Wisconsin to explore new and creative ways to communicate with the Hmong community and give them the tools they need to help themselves. Some of the ways we are doing this are:
      *  Working with Paoi Lor and ABC Hmong Radio, we produced a program using interviewers and interpreters to bring important information directly to the Hmong community from an expert, Dr. Mary L. Zupanc, a specialist in epilepsy at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. The programs were so popular here, with many people calling in to ask questions, that we have taken a recording of the show to other Hmong radio programs around the state.
      * We are working with a Web designer to add Hmong-specific information to the Network's website, translating some of the English into Hmong and also providing information specific to the Hmong community.
      *  We are producing a Hmong language video about epilepsy. This video will be culturally specific also, using traditional music, shaman's narrative, and illustrations from the Hmong culture in Asia and America.
      One of the callers to our radio program said, "When we were in our old homeland, we did the best we could with what we knew. Now we are in America, and we can learn new things to help our children, and all our people." I couldn't say it any better than that!
About the author:
Pa Britney Xiong is president of Western Bilingual Services (Milw.). She can be reached at (414) 672-6088 or Visit
December 2007 Issue