Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Provencher, Ronald

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Anthropology


Lao (Tai people)--Medical care--Illinois--Rockford; Traditional medicine--Illinois--Elgin; Traditional medicine--Illinois--Rockford; Lao (Tai people)--Medical care--Illinois--Elgin


Two northern Illinois cities, Rockford and Elgin, have sizable Lao communities: approximately 750 and 2,000, respectively. Information about these Lao immigrant communities is scarce. This thesis explores one aspect of immigrant Lao culture, namely, traditional and acculturative medical practices, focusing especially on the blending of traditional practices with cosmopolitan medical practices. From February, 1982 to February, 1983, interviews were conducted with healers, patients, and key figures in both Lao communities. The author attended ceremonies and festivities both as observer and participant. It was found that traditional healers still practice in Rockford and Elgin. Information was gathered on three types: mou paw or healers who specialize in treating broken bones, Buddhist monks, and mae khaaw or Buddhist "nuns." The Lao still use home treatments of several types to relieve minor illnesses. However, certain home treatments, such as those traditionally used after a woman gave birth, are no longer followed. The Lao continue to follow traditional preventive practices intended to maintain good health. These include wearing amulets, becoming tattooed (males only), and participating in ceremonies that involve rituals related to preventing ill health. Traditional medical practices coexist with cosmopolitan medicine for a variety of reasons. Certain Lao theories of illness are intertwined with other aspects of the social system. Those theories and the associated medical practices that are more deeply embedded take a long time to change. Economic costs are an important factor contributing to the retention of traditional practices. Cosmopolitan medicine is too expensive for many Lao. However, for those people who are able to consult a cosmopolitan doctor, the aid of traditional healers is still sought when the former fail to satisfy their needs completely. Traditional healers commonly treat other aspects of an ailment other than the physical problem; they are good at treating illnesses as opposed to diseases. The treatments used by local healers are more familiar to patients. Because the Lao have so many adjustments to make in this country, this familiarity may provide the comfort they need in times of illness.


Bibliography: pages [119]-124.


[viii], 132 pages,




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