Measles, Hmong, and Metaphor: Culture Change and Illness Management under Conditions of Immigration



When 19 Hmong families and three healers in St. Paul, Minnesota, were interviewed regarding their understanding of measles and the ways in which they cared for children with the disease, their responses spanned the range between Hmong animistic cosmology and Western theories of disease. The metaphors of growth that were used to describe the disease link language, cosmology, causation, body processes, and illness management practices. This study discusses the themes of cyclical time, diseasecausing spirits, the natural/supernatural dichotomy, and agricultural metaphors as applied to disease, as well as the growing adaptation to, use of, and interpretation of Western medicine by these immigrants. [Hmong, measles, metaphor, animistic cosmology, cultural adaptation]