This is another article. It’s quite short, but sometimes less is more.
Here is my last article printed in my college newspaper. Enjoy! It’s educational.
In a fairly recent report, done between March and April 2010, Nguyen et al. comes up with a report entitled “Aspirations and Realities of Love, Marriage and Education Among Hmong Women.” It examines marriage practices amongst the Hmong by dissecting stereotypes and conducting interviews with a group of women in Vietnam. The interviews were among women of different age groups and educational backgrounds, some drop outs and some attending school, some young, and some old. Researches wanted to see if any of the rumored stereotypes were true, such as “wife snatching”, and to see if the Hmong were really as “backwards” as other ethnic groups claimed them to be, such as Americans and the Kinh, which is the leading ethnic group in Vietnam.
The research cleared up some these rumors, but it also confirmed some already known facts about the Hmong’s view on marriage and kinship. One thing that was clearly false and misinterpreted was the notion of “wife snatching”. It is when a woman is forced into a marriage. She is practically kidnapped into the husband’s home. The women in the interviews said they had heard of that, but were not victims of it themselves. Most were able to choose their own husbands. In fact, traditionally, the Hmong do have what is called zij poj niam or consenting, pre-arranged bride capture. Nguyen(2010:S206) states, “Hmong women confirmed that within the more common zij poj niam, whereby couples have a generally rapid, mutually agreed courtship and obtain the parent’s consent for marriage, there is often an element of abduction, but in the form of voluntary play-acting.” Hmong traditions of marriage are changing despite what other people may say or perceive to be true. Nguyen (2010:S205) confirms that, “Marriages based on mutual love with parents approval (xav sib yuav), which was the most common procedure reported by interviewees.”
The Hmong still value bride price in their culture. Of all the women in the study, Nguyen (2010:S208) finds that, “Nearly all of the women interviewed (55/58; 94.8%) reported that their family received bride price payment on the occasion of their marriage.” It is so important that, “…some families sell land to ‘buy’ a wife for their son.” (Nguyen 2010:S209) The women had no issue with the custom and seemed to agree with it. “…participants did not consider bride price as something that needs to be eradicated. No one appeared to question bride price as something that negatively affects the status of women.” (Nguyen 2010:S209) The general outcome is that bride price is a source of income and is practice across all generations, but is a complex system. (Nguyen 2010:S12)
One thing that is for certain in Hmong culture is that it remains patriarchal. Most women cannot leave the house without their parent-in-law’s and husband’s permission. Many of the women reported having to wear western clothing just so they wouldn’t be sexually harassed by the males. It is seen as a sign of conformity, steering away from Hmong values and traditions. Another way the women break barriers is by going to school. Many of them have access to information on birth control, sex, reproduction health, etc. stuff that their mother’s did not have. “Their level of knowledge is certainly not representative of al Hmong girls in the district, but reveals an eagerness and ability to inform themselves and learn new things, which their parents had not been able to do.” (Nguyen 2010:S10)
All in all, the study gave evidence that the Hmong culture is changing and adaptable. Women are able to have more choices, but there is still a lot of work to be done. For example, the women attending school felt glad to be learning, but at the same time did not have any confidence in pursuing higher education. “…the principal factors influencing them to abandon their studies were marriage and family poverty.” (Nguyen 2010:S10) Many of the women must dedicate themselves to domestic duties while the husband continues his education. Only time will tell what will be the future of these women and where their culture will take them and others on the long road that is being a Hmong in Vietnam.
Nguyen Thi Huong, Pauline Oosterhoff, and Joanna White. 2011. “Aspirations and Realities of Love, Marriage and Education Among Hmong Women” Culture, Health & Sexuality. Vol. 13, No. S2, December 2011. S201-S215
When most of us think of embalming we may recall what we learned in high school about the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. We learned all about their embalming techniques and have come to know these embalmed subjects as mummies. We know that their bodies were dehydrated with salt from the Nile. The organs were removed and put into separate jars. If the brain was not jarred it was removed by sticking a long hook up the nostril and extracted through the nose piece by piece. You can imagine how much of it must have come out as mush, like an organ soup served up and ready to be consumed. Embalming takes place in America as well, but most Americans don’t even know the process taking place. That process just might be harmful to us. I will discuss why we still preserve our dead and why it may not be safe. Embalming just might not be as appealing or as necessary as it is portrayed to be.
First, let’s talk about why people began embalming the dead and still do. Just like embalming was practiced in Egypt, it was later practiced in England. In accordance to Jolene Zigarovich’s essay, Preserved Remains: Practices in Eighteenth –Century England, William Hunter had similar methods to the Egyptians, such as returning the organs to the abdominal cavity. Hunter is credited with our modern techniques of embalming. He was the first surgeon to record on arterial and cavity embalming. At this time, body preservation was only done on the British monarchy. It eventually spread to the upper and middle class, and then finally spread among the common folk. Zigarovich explains, “For the monarchy, physically preserving the body implies the continuity of political and divine authority (p5).” Not only was it symbolic, but it was also seen a religious expression. Although the church will not take sides on embalming, we know that they did due to grave and mausoleum excavations. One account, by physician Thomas Cullen, describes a body that was dug up at the Westminister Abbey, as having fluid coming out of it. It appeared to have been pickled in an attempt at preservation (p6). Books were even written, as Zigarovich says, “…to incite fear concerning the body’s decay in order to turn heathens to the Christian religion (p8).” People fear for their souls and fear death. The idea of our loved ones turning rotten is like the decaying of the soul.
America is very much a materialistic culture. We care about clothes, our phones, constantly buying into the latest trends of technology and fashion. But are we so vain that we are willing to hurt our environment and pollute our deceased with hundreds of chemicals? Perhaps so. We have to look good at all times…even in death. Jessica Mitford states in her essay, Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain, that, “…one must wonder at the docility of Americans who each year pay hundreds of millions of dollars for its perpetuation , blissfully ignorant of what it is all about, what is done, how it is done (p277).” In an article titled, Drinking Grandma: The Problem of Embalming, Jeremiah Chiappelli and Ted Chiappelli state that the funeral industry makes about $13 billion per year (p24). In her essay, Mitford goes on to present how the dead are prepared for their funerals. The organs of the chest cavity are removed with a hollow, needle through the abdomen. The insides are stirred around, much like an organ soup, and pumped out. The blood is also pumped out, but through the veins and into the sewer drainage. The body is sewn in various places, including the abdomen, after the insides are filled with cavity fluid. The veins are pumped with artery fluid. In Drinking Grandma, this estimated to be about 3.5 gallons (p24). There are many different embalming fluids to choose from. Some give a natural pink tint, while others keep the skin smooth as a child’s. Besides all the poking, prodding, and sewing, the face is heavily creamed with make-up to prevent burns to the skin from the embalming fluids.
The main chemical in embalming fluid is formaldehyde. Chiapelli says, “Formaldehyde also enters the atmosphere through cremation. Because all combustion creates some formaldehyde (p25).” It breaks down into other hazardous chemical such as formic acid and carbon dioxide. According to Chiapelli, “Because formaldehyde is highly soluble, it readily attaches to atmospheric moisture and washes out in precipitation. (p25)” It is a known human carcinogen and is regulated by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) as hazardous waste. It may increase the chances of brain cancer, leukemia, chronic bronchitis, and even some diseases. What make is so dangerous is that, “…no safety standards have been set”, and it, “places almost directly into the environment despite potential harm and questionable benefit (Chiappelli, p25). Besides the chemicals, there is also the concern for the dumping of diseased blood into the sewers. Diseased blood in hospitals is treated as hazardous waste. So, why are funeral homes not held up to the same standards? Not only does it put the embalmers at risk, but it puts all of us at risk. The blood in the sewers surely makes its way into our water and our soil. “Formaldehyde is going to show up, but it’s going to take a while. We’re probably drinking great-grandmother Maude right now…,” says environmental consultant, Julie Weatherington-Rice, in Drinking Grandma (p 27).
We have a duty to our dead, and it is simply to lay them to rest. Everything else, the flowers, extravagant funeral homes, expensive caskets, the embalming itself, is all secondary. It is for our aesthetic appeal, not theirs. Unless, they request it, of course. Zigarovich uses some quotes from philanthropist Francis Bancroft’s will after death. “My body I desire may be embalmed within six days after my death, and my entrails to be put into a leaden box, and included in my coffin, or placed in my vault next the same, as shall be most convenient.” Francis made it clear as to what he wanted and seemed to be well aware of the procedures. If we educate ourselves and others on the practice, maybe we would see a drastic decline in the industry. In a study done by the Federal Trade Commission, they conclude that, “Nearly ten percent of the funeral buyers in a given year would decline embalming if allowed to choose. (Chiappelli, p 26).” It’s important to know that there are other options out there. For example, there is something called a “green burial”. That is when the body is allowed to naturally rot and is presented in the open casket. The benefit of this is that the body is not disturbed and it shows the reality of death and its process. There is also mummification by dehydration. This is where the body is filled with dry ice and tightly wrapped. And why not have body freezed? Funerals homes are ready made with refrigerators anyway. The benefits of dehydrating and freezing are just like the green burial, only without the odor. The second most popular choice for families is cremation, only because it is much more affordable.
The funeral industry is known for its exploitation on a mourning family’s pockets. Not to say that they all do, but most do not inform of us of our rights. For example, did you know family members have the right to be in attendance of the embalming session and watch the proceedings? As Mitford states, “Today, family members who might wish to be in attendance would certainly be dissuaded by the funeral director (p 277)…” She goes on to say, “Is it possible he fears that public information about embalming might lead patrons to wonder if they really want this service (p 278)?” And as stated in Drinking Grandma, “The most likely reason for the continued practice of embalming is that it fueled the expansion of the funeral industry (p 24).” The key here is to ask questions and get informed. Is all the money for a momentary lapse in the natural process of decaying flesh really worth the investment? After all, it is only temporary. But there is that longing to see our loved ones one last time and to remember them as they were as a person, not just a dead body. People even take pictures with their cameras of the dead person in their casket to capture them one last time in a permanent, unintended pose of death. It satisfies our material expectations, satisfies our religious values, and soothes our aching souls. Organ soup for the soul. Just what we need to warm our bellies from being sick with grief.
Chiappelli, Ted and Jeremiah. Journal of Environmental Health. “Drinking Grandma: The
Problem of Embalming.” 2008 December. Web. 14 Oct. 2013.
Mitford, Jessica. “Behind the Formaldehyde Curtain.” The Brief Bedford Reader. Ed. X.J.,
, Kennedy, Dorothy M. Kennedy, and Jane E. Aaron. 11th ed. Boston: Bedford,
2012. 116-117. Print.
Zigarovich, Jolene. “Preserved Remains: Embalming Practices in Eighteenth-Century England.”
Eighteenth-Century Life. Volume 33, Number 3, Fall 2009. Duke University Press. Web. 14