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Monday, May 28, 2012

IAN STEVENSON - Reincarnation & biology - BIRTH DEFECTS

 IAN STEVENSON - Where reincarnation and biology intersect



16. INTRODUCTION TO CASES WITH BIRTH DEFECTS


In previous chapters I have sometimes mentioned abnormalities that we could call birth defects. Examples occurred in the asymmetry of the breasts of Daw Aye Than (Chapter 5) and in the slight malformation of Ma Thoung's left ear (Chapter 14). In the following chapters, however, we pass from such minor defects to major ones, usually involving partial or complete absence of fingers, toes, and larger parts of arms, legs, ears, or other organs.
Apart from the gravity of such defects, they are much less easily attributed to chance than are birthmarks of which, as I mentioned earlier, almost everyone has one or more. In contrast to birthmarks, serious birth defects are comparatively rare.
The incidence of birth defects in the general population reported in different series varies between 0.74% and 3.30%. This somewhat wide range occurred part- ly because some of the series were of registered births, others of hospital births. Also, criteria for including particular defects varied as did the thoroughness with which the babies were examined. The best overall estimate of the incidence of birth defects is about 2% of births.
Several reports of surveys of birth defects have included information about the causes of the birth defects. Only a few causes of birth defects are definitely known. These are a) genetic factors, under which we may subsume chromosomal abnormalities; b) teratogens, such as certain infectious diseases and certain drugs and other toxins; and c) uterine conditions, such as the crowding during twin pregnancies. When we exclude these known causes, a large number of birth defects remain assigned to the category of "unknown cause." Reports of several series have offered estimates (or actual counts) of the cases with "unknown cause" ranging from 43.2% to as high as 70%.
Even the birth defects of known causation show a wide variation in the individual manifestations of the defect or defects usually associated with the identified agent. Experts have been forced to acknowledge that a single cause is rarely sufficient to produce a birth defect, and instead they allow for the interplay of several factors, called in medical terminology "multifactorial etiology." The principal claim presented here is that the influence of a reincarnating personality may be one factor we should consider in the causation of some birth defects.
I will next give several examples of birth defects that show the insufficiency of the idea of a single cause of some diseases for which one significant cause has been identified.
A simple example of multifactorial etiology occurs in the fairly common condition of cleft lip and palate. A wide range of abnormalities under this heading occurs. There may be only a slight "nick" in the lip or a whole range of severe divisions of the lip with and without cleavage of the palate. Cleft lip and palate appear to have an important genetic component. If one twin of a fraternal (dizygotic) pair has the condition, the other twin will be affected in 8% of cases; but in identical (monozygotic) twins, if one twin has the condition, the other has it in 38% of cases. Yet the significant point here is that in such twins, of identical genetic constitution and nearly the same uterine environment, 62% of the babies are not concordant for the condition. There have even been cases of conjoined (so-called Siamese) twins discordant for cleft lip. One study showed that psychological stress to the mother was a contributing factor in the causation of cleft lip, although a second study did not confirm this.
Marfan syndrome is a disorder of the connective tissue that produces a wide variety of defects throughout the body, but particularly in the eyes, heart and blood vessels, and bones. There are good grounds from studies of pedigrees for believing that a necessary cause of the condition is a single dominant gene, which some geneticists have reported locating on chromosome 15. Yet this gene may not be a sufficient cause. The clinical manifestations of Marfan syndrome vary so greatly that we have to suppose some other causative factor or factors besides the genetic component. Some affected persons will have symptoms predominantly in the skeletal system without ocular or cardiac symptoms. Other patients may have skeletal and ocular changes without cardiac lesions. These wide variations may occur in members of the same affected family. Geneticists use the term variable expressivity to account for these variations. This, however, is simply stating the obvious. "Modifier genes" are conjectured as variably influencing the expressivity, but they are rarely specified.
The condition known as Polydactyly, in which a person affected has an extra finger or toe, also has an important genetic component. It too, however, exhibits a wide variety of manifestations in the individual members of an affected family. Here again, geneticists have introduced the concept of modifier genes in order to account for these variations.
German measles (rubella) in a pregnant woman appears to be an important causative factor in the occurrence of birth defects, notably in the eyes, ears, and heart. It is particularly damaging when the mother-to-be contracts the disease during the early weeks of her pregnancy. Yet in one series only 16.7% and in another only 15% of babies thus exposed were found to have major birth defects. Moreover, a puzzling one-sidedness of the effects may occur; one eye of a baby may be seriously affected, while the other one is normal.
Similar observations were made during the brief epidemic of malformations attributed to the drug thalidomide. Although there can be no doubt about its dam- aging effects, as many as 50% of the women who took thalidomide during a pregnancy delivered normal babies. Dosage and severity of the birth defects seemed unrelated. In studies of twins it was found that both were usually affected, but one twin might be much more affected than another. One case occurred in which one twin had hands attached to shoulders without any intermediate arms (phocomelia), and the other twin had normal limbs.
My drawing attention to the insufficiency of single known causes as the explanation for birth defects does nothing to support the explanatory value of previous lives as an additional factor. I have reviewed the importance of acknowledging multiple factors in the causation of birth defects only to weaken the widespread idea that present lines of inquiry will in time suffice to explain all we need to know. Doubt about the adequacy of present knowledge may stimulate interest in other lines of investigation, such as the one described in this book.
Instances of a disorder known as the constriction ring syndrome will be found among the cases of the following chapters. In this condition, a ring or band of tissue forms around a limb or a digit of a fetus. At the site of the ring the organ affected is constricted, and beyond the constriction there is often a swelling. Occasionally, the end portion of a fetal limb may become completely severed from the remainder of the body.
One theory to explain the constriction ring syndrome attributes the rings to amniotic bands of the gestational sac that become loose and then entangle and constrict the limbs affected. Amniotic bands, however, fail to account for all the features of some cases, especially cases of identical (monozygotic) twins having a common amnion with one twin affected and the other not.
A second theory of the constriction ring syndrome attributes the condition to a failure of development of the embryonic tissue beneath the skin at the site affected. The appearance of a constricting band is, on this view, illusory; the abnormality is one of failure of embryonic development. This theory has weaknesses also, especially if it is linked to hypothetical genetic factors, because there is no evidence of a genetic component in the condition. The cases of the present work showing the constriction ring syndrome suggest that the mental force in play, if I may use that expression, inhibits embryonic development at the sites affected, which appear to correspond to wounds in a previous life.
The birth defects that I describe in the following chapters are often of types unknown to experts on birth defects. They do not correspond to any commonly recognized syndromes of malformations. Others, however, do conform to those types. The monograph includes, for example, two cases whose subjects had a cleft lip, and I summarize one of these in Chapter 18 of this book.
In later chapters I occasionally describe birth defects of a known type as common or fairly common, rare, or extremely rare. Figures of the incidence of such birth defects in the general population are available, and I give them in the monograph. In the present work I shall use the descriptive terms without giving the precise figures of incidence. Readers should consider the rareness of a birth defect in appraising the likelihood that it might have corresponded to a wound on a deceased person by chance.


17. BIRTH DEFECTS OF THE EXTREMITIES


In presenting the cases with birth defects I have divided them into three groups: those in which a birth defect occurred in one or more of the extremities, those in which a birth defect occurred in the region of the head and neck, and those in which birth defects occurred in two or more regions of the body.
This chapter in the monograph includes 23 cases of which more than half are from Burma; and in most of the Burmese cases the previous personality was murdered, often with preceding torture. I will present summaries of only 7 of these 23 cases.
Lekh Pal Jatav was born in December 1971 in the village of Nagla Devi in the Mainpuri District of Uttar Pradesh, India. Lekh Pal was born without the fingers (phalanges) of his right hand, which were represented by mere stubs; his left hand was normal (Figure 23).
As an infant Lekh Pal was exceedingly frail, and his development in walking and talking was far behind that of his peers. He had just begun to talk and had spoken only a few words about a previous life when a woman from the village of Nagla Tal—about 8 kilometers from Nagla Devi—came to Nagla Devi and hap- pened to notice Lekh Pal in his mother's arms. She mentioned that a child of Nagla Tal had had his fingers cut off in an accident. She, and perhaps some other villagers, took back information about Lekh Pal to the village of Nagla Tal.
In Nagla Tal a child called Hukum Singh had had his fingers cut off when he inadvertently put them into the blades of a fodder-chopping machine, which his father was operating without noticing that his little son, who was about 3 years old, had approached the machine. Hukum Singh survived this accident, but he died the following year of some unrelated illness.
Hukum Singh's family seemed in no hurry to meet Lekh Pal, and before they had done so he had spoken to his family about the life of Hukum. He kept repeating the word "Tal, Tal," but at the time this made no sense to his mother. He said Nagla Devi was not his home and he would not stay there. His older sister later remembered that he described to her how, in the previous life, he had put his hand into a fodder-chopping machine. He said that he had a mother and father in "Tal" and also an older sister and a younger brother. He did not give Hukum's name. He indirectly identified Hukum's father as the person operating the fodder- chopping machine when his fingers were cut off.
Eventually a villager from Nagla Tal who had learned about Lekh Pal came over to Nagla Devi and took him to Nagla Tal, where he was credited with making a number of recognitions. For example, he pointed to the place where the fodder-chopping machine that cut off Hukum's fingers had stood; it is doubtful, however, whether he recognized the actual machine involved.
The two families concerned in this case lived in villages that might be consid- ered close by Western readers; but if they take account of the limited means of transportation in the part of India where the case occurred, they can believe the infor- mants' statements that the families had not known each other before it developed. It is true that there had been some exchanges, including at least one marriage, between the two villages; but I am satisfied that no one from Nagla Tal gave normal information to Lekh Pal's family about Hukum's accident before he spoke about it.
Lekh Pal's birth defect is extremely rare. A condition known as brachydactyly, which means "shortened fingers," occurs as an inherited trait in some families. In brachydactyly, the fingers are abnormally short; but they are present, not mere stubs, as were the fingers of Lekh Pal's right hand. Moreover, one-sided brachydactyly is an even rarer condition than the bilateral defect. In the monograph (but not in this book) I report one other case of unilateral brachydactyly.
An important detail for the later discussion of processes in these cases is the firm insistence by Hukum's family that his thumb had not been cut off when the other four fingers of his right hand were. Yet Lekh Pal's thumb was as much affected in his birth defect as the other fingers of his right hand. This permits me to introduce the concept of a psychical field as part of the process in the occurrence of some of the birth defects I describe.
Ma Myint Thein was born in the village of Okingone near Pyawbwe, Upper Burma, on October 12, 1956. Her parents were U Pe Tin and his wife, Daw Khin Hla. Before Daw Khin Hla became pregnant with Ma Myint Thein, U Pe Tin dreamed that an acquaintance, U Sein Maung, said that he wished to be reborn in U Pe Tin's family. When U Pe Tin had this dream, he did not know that U Sein Maung was dead. The next day, however, he learned that assassins armed with swords had killed U Sein Maung the day before. It happened that on that day U Sein Maung had bicycled out from Pyawbwe to visit his parents. On the way back he had stopped and chatted a little with U Pe Tin and Daw Khin Hla before getting on his bicycle again and continuing on his way. He was waylaid by the murderers on the road back to Pyawbwe.
U Sein Maung had owned a truck with which he traded successfully between Pyawbwe and Rangoon. His frequent absences, however, had strained his marriage, and it was not improved when his wife learned that he had a mistress, or. as they say in Burma, a "lesser wife," in Rangoon. In a fit of despondency U Sein Maung's wife killed herself by drinking battery acid.
U Sein Maung was not murdered until 4 or 5 years after his wife's death. Robbery was not a motive, because the murderers did not take his bicycle and the jewels that he had been wearing. It was widely suspected that U Sein Maung's mother-in-law, Daw Saw Yin, nourishing vengeful thoughts about her daughter's mistreatment at his hands, had hired professional killers to murder him.
We were able to talk with two persons who had gone to see U Sein Maung's body after he was attacked and killed. (The murderers had left the body where they had killed him.) They said that the fingers of both of U Sein Maung's hands had been chopped off (by a sword) and his head almost severed from his trunk. An associate of mine, U Nu, who had not himself seen the body, made inquiries about the murder a few days after it occurred, and he said that the statements of the per- sons with whom he talked agreed with those of our later informants, although U Nu's informants mentioned that U Sein Maung had also been stabbed in the back. Figure 24 shows Ma Myint Thein's hands as they appeared when she was 20 years old. All the fingers were markedly shortened and malformed, and most had constriction rings, such as I mentioned in Chapter 16. Only the left thumb was entirely normal.
Although Ma Myint Thein began to speak coherently when she was not more than 2 years old, she did not refer to a previous life until she was about 5, considerably older than most subjects of these cases when they begin to speak about a pre- vious life. Many years later, Ma Myint Thein remembered that her first memories of the previous life occurred when, as she was playing with other children, she noticed that her hands were different from theirs. She then began to recall that in a previous life she had been murdered by three or four men with swords. Daw Khin Hla said that she first learned about Ma Myint Thein's memories when she over- heard her saying to one of her older brothers: "1 have got a wife in the south [meaning Rangoon]. I will give you candies if you will take me there."
After this, Ma Myint Thein gradually opened up her memories to other members of her family. She said that she had been called Sein Maung. She had a wife. Ma Thein, and two children, a boy and a girl. She gave other particulars that were correct for U Sein Maung, but I will pass over most of them in order to describe what she said about U Sein Maung's death.
She described how she had been killed with "a big long knife." (She used the Burmese word dah, which can mean any bladed instrument from a kitchen knife to a sword.) She said that her fingers were malformed because she had held up her hands to ward off the first stroke of the sword as the murderers began to attack U Sein Maung. She remembered later that U Sein Maung had been wearing a ring, a wristwatch, and a gold bracelet. (These would have been among the last objects in U Sein Maung's visual field when he held up his hands as he was being attacked.)
Ma Myint Thein had a phobia of the site where U Sein Maung had been killed, and when she had to pass it on her way to Pyawbwe, she found herself shivering. The malformation of her fingers distressed Ma Myint Thein greatly when she was young, and she sometimes tried to hide them.
Ma Myint Thein was convinced that U Sein Maung's mother-in-law, Daw Saw Yin, had contracted for his murder, and, not surprisingly, her relations with Daw Saw Yin were not cordial.
When she was young. Ma Myint Thein also showed masculine traits. She was fond of wearing boys' clothes and sometimes used the masculine verbs when speaking. (Like some other languages Burmese has some different word forms according to the speaker's sex.) She complained about being a girl.
As she grew older, Ma Myint Thein became better adjusted to her condition. In her early 20s she married and later had two normal children.
Ma Khin Mar Htoo was born in Tatkon, Upper Burma, on July 26, 1967. Her parents were U Thein Myine and Daw Ngwe Kyi. Before she conceived Ma Khin Mar Htoo, Daw Ngwe Kyi dreamed that a girl called Ma Thein Nwe was going to be reborn as her daughter. Ma Thein Nwe, who was nicknamed Kalamagyi (which means "big dark girl" in Burmese) because she was somewhat dark-complexioned, had died under the following circumstance in August 1966.
The trains in Burma had then no restaurant cars or vendors moving through the train to sell food and drinks to the passengers. Accordingly, at station stops vendors surrounded the trains and offered food, water, flowers, and other items for the passengers to buy. Kalamagyi and her mother earned a living selling to the train passengers in this way. The trains at Tatkon stopped on side lines beside the two platforms. There was a middle line between the two outside lines, and express trains not halting at Tatkon would pass through the station on that line.
On the day of her death, Kalamagyi was walking on the central line, confidently expecting the train to be switched onto the line next to the platform. She had flowers that she hoped to sell to the passengers and was walking along the line with her back to the engine. On that day, however, a switch failed to function properly, and the train, instead of moving to the side line beside the platform, continued on the central line. Horrified, the switchman saw that it would run down Kalamagyi. So did the engine driver who sounded his horn and braked the train. He was too late, and the train ran over Kalamagyi.
It was possible to some extent to reconstruct how Kalamagyi died under the train. Her lower right leg was found at a considerable distance behind the rest of her body, which the train had sliced in two as it ran over her. It seems likely, therefore, that as Kalamagyi fell under the train, she thrust her right leg out under the wheels, and it was cut off before other parts of her body were injured. If she did not lose consciousness immediately, she probably had done so by the time the train ran over her trunk.
Ma Khin Mar Htoo was born with her right leg absent from a few inches below the knee. Two rudimentary toes protruded from the stump of the leg (Figure 25). She had some minor defects of her hands, but they were trivial compared with the major defect of her leg. This condition, hemimelia in medical terms, is a rare malformation.
When Ma Khin Mar Htoo could speak, she expressed many memories of the life and death of Kalamagyi. Because the two families had been moderately well acquainted before the case developed, I do not believe Ma Khin Mar Htoo was able to say anything of which members of her family had no knowledge whatever. She developed a strong attachment to members of Kalamagyi's family and enjoyed visiting them.
This is one of the few cases in which we have been helpful to the subject in a concrete way. When we first met Ma Khin Mar Htoo, she was hobbling around on crutches, which had produced hard calluses on her hands. It was difficult for her to attend school. U Win Maung arranged for her to be fitted with a prosthesis, and when we last met her, in 1984, she was walking normally, able to climb stairs, and attending school successfully.
This chapter of the monograph includes four cases in which the subject remembered the previous life of a Japanese soldier killed during World War II. I presented summaries of three such cases in Chapter 4 and will now describe another.
Ma Win Tar was born in Pyawbwe, Upper Burma, on February 17, 1962. Her parents were U Aye Kyaw and his wife, Daw Khin Win. At her birth she was found to have severe defects of both hands. The middle and ring fingers of her right hand were present, but only loosely attached to the rest of the hand, and they were webbed together. A doctor recommended that these dangling fingers be amputated, and this was done when Ma Win Tar was a few days old. Several of Ma Win Tar's other fingers were either missing or had constriction rings. There was a prominent ring around her left wrist, and close examination of this showed that it consisted of three separate depressions that might have corresponded to grooves made by a rope wound three times around the arm (Figure 26). Daw Khin Win said that there had been a similar ropelike mark above Ma Win Tar's right wrist, but this had since faded. She also said that when Ma Win Tar had been younger, it was possible to discern in this area a pattern within the birthmarks that corresponded to the strands of the rope. (Figure 1 shows such rope patterns in a man who developed ropelike marks on his skin alter vividly remembering having been tied with a rope some years earlier.)
Ma Win Tar started to speak when she was about VA years old. When she was about 3, she began to refer to a previous life. She said that she had been a Japanese soldier, captured by some Burmese villagers, tied to a tree, and burned alive. She gave no name for herself in the previous life, and her account of it remains unverified.
It is, however, plausible. As the Japanese Army retreated before the British advance in the spring of 1945, Burmese villagers would sometimes capture strag- gling Japanese soldiers. The stragglers were treated variously, according to the experiences the local villagers had had with the occupying Japanese Army. If the villagers believed the Japanese had badly mistreated them, they might take revenge on captured Japanese soldiers; and a Burmese associate who had been liv- ing in Pyawbwe at the time told me that some stragglers from the Japanese Army had been burned alive.
Ma Win Tar showed some behavior that was unusual in her family, but appropriate for the previous life that she claimed to remember. She liked to dress like a boy and to wear shirts and trousers. (Burmese boys, outside a large city like Rangoon, ordinarily wear shorts until they begin to wear the ankle-length garment known as a longyi.) She also liked to keep her hair short like a boy's. Eventually, her family forbade her to wear boys' clothes and insisted that she dress like a girl.
Ma Win Tar also showed several behaviors that 1 call "Japanese" traits. She complained that the Burmese food was too spicy and refused to eat spicy foods when she was young. She liked sweet foods and pork. She was relatively insensitive to pain and more hardworking than the average Burmese child. She had a streak of cruelty rare in Burmese children, and she sometimes slapped the faces of her playmates when they annoyed her. (This was a habit that the Japanese soldiers often showed when Burmese villagers irritated them; Burmese people rarely slap faces.) Ma Win Tar also resisted learning the forms of worship practiced by Burmese Buddhists. She refused to perform the customary gesture of obeisance when meeting Buddhist monks, despite the urgings of her parents. When Ma Win Tar was young, she would sit on the ground with her knees forward and her buttocks resting on her heels, as Japanese people do and Burmese people do not (except sometimes, briefly, when worshipping).
The behavior I have described certainly made Ma Win Tar stand out from her siblings and other playmates. It would not necessarily have alienated her from them if she had been less fervent, almost defiant, in insisting that she was Japanese. She would sometimes say: "I am Japanese. What do you think of me?" When members of the Japanese War Graves Commission came to Pyawbwe, Ma Win Tar told her playmates: "They are our nationals."
These attitudes led to quarrels in the home, and Ma Win Tar formed the idea that other members of the family were aligned against her because, as she put it, she was "a foreigner." 1 do not think her suspicions were warranted; on the contrary, I believe members of her family treated her kindly, even though Ma Win Tar's behavior must have tried their patience sorely.
When I last met Ma Win Tar in 1984, she had adjusted fully to life in Burma and said that she did not wish to "return" to Japan. She then had no imaged memories of the previous life, but she retained some masculine traits.
Augustine Nwachi, an Igbo, was born in Ndeaboh, Nigeria, in December 1977. His parents were Godfrey and Rebecca Nwachi. Augustine was born with a severe birth defect of his left foot. The outer third of the foot was absent. There were a few nubbins attached to the end of the stump that suggested attempts at toes (*).
Mainly on the basis of his birth defect, Augustine was identified as the rein- carnation of his paternal grandfather, Dominic. The latter had died from an infection of his left great toe and second toe, which had become gangrenous, and must have culminated in an overwhelming infection that killed him within a few days of his becoming ill. From what I learned about the parts of Dominic's toes that had been affected, the diseased area of his foot was smaller than the substantial part of the foot that was absent when Augustine was born.
The Igbos attach importance to the judgment of an oracle concerning the identification of a reincarnated person, and in Augustine's case an oracle confirmed Godfrey's opinion that Augustine was the reincarnation of his (Augustine's) grandfather.
Augustine never spoke of any imaged memories of his grandfather's life or death. He thus belongs to an important group of subjects who undermine the idea, sometimes expressed by skeptics, that parents who identify a child as being a deceased person reincarnated will stimulate the child to express pseudomemories of that person's life.
Augustine's case has the additional importance of suggesting the value of the concept of a field in understanding how some of the birth defects I am describing occur: The area of his foot affected in the birth defect was considerably larger than the area involved in the infection of Dominic's foot.
By this time readers will have become used to the idea for the birthmarks figuring in these cases that there is not always an antecedent wound to which they correspond. Sometimes the body of the concerned previous personality had blood left on it or medicine spilled on it, or it was marked with lipstick or charcoal; in such cases the skin surface was not even scratched, let alone deeply wounded. In one case the generating factor for a birth defect was not even a mark on the previous personality's body; instead, it seems to have been a thought in his mind.
The case in question is that of Bruce Peck, a Haida, who was born in Massett, British Columbia, Canada, on November 20, 1949. His parents were Kenneth and Rose Peck. Bruce's paternal grandfather, Richard, was a renowned fisherman. In his day there was much less machinery for handling the fishing lines and nets than is available now. For the most part, lines had to be let out or hauled in by hand. It was heavy work, and Richard found the life of a fisherman unendurably severe. Three informants told me independently that they had heard Richard say that if he were reborn he wished not to have a forearm, so that he could not become a fisherman, and he would then be able to work at some less arduous job on land. As he said this, he gestured with his left hand straightened out making a motion like an axe coming down on his right arm and chopping it off below the elbow.
Richard Peck drowned accidentally on April 12, 1949. Bruce's mother was already pregnant at that time, and Bruce was born 7 months after his grandfather's death. The lower half of his right forearm was absent (*). At the end of the stump of his arm some nubbins of beginning fingers were present, and a surgeon later removed these.
Bruce had no imaged memories of his grandfather's life or death. No one had a dream before his birth. He did have a severe phobia of water. He worked entirely at clerical positions on the shore.
Readers of the numerous accounts of murders figuring in the cases I have already described will surely have noted that, if we interpret these cases as instances of reincarnation, it is the reborn victim who has birth defects, not the murderer. This can offend our sense of justice. Why, we may ask, should some- one who is murdered also suffer from birth defects in another life? Outrage at such a thought led the mother of the murdered Yasupala in the case of Sampath Priyasantha (Chapter 3) to reject the idea that the horribly malformed Sampath Priyasantha could be the reincarnation of her son. In answer to this objection we can say that we do not know what happens to most murderers, if they should reincarnate. In a very few cases that have come to my attention, however, a subject who remembered having been a malefactor has had an apparently related birth defect.
One of the rare cases of this type I have investigated is that of H. A. Wijeratne. He was born in the village of Uggalkaltota, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), on January 17, 1947. His parents were Tileratne Hami and his wife, Huratal Hami. At his birth Wijeratne was quickly noted to have marked birth defects of his right chest and arm. The major muscle of his right upper chest was absent, his right arm was much reduced in size compared with the left one, and the fingers of his right Hand were extremely short; some of them were webbed together (Figure 27). (His condition, first described in the medical literature of the 1840s, is known as Poland syndrome.)
After Wijeratne began to speak, his mother heard him talking to himself. She became interested in what he was saying and, listening to him, was surprised to hear him say that he had been born with a defective arm because he had murdered his wife in a previous life.
When Huratal Hami told her husband what Wijeratne had been saying, she did not find him surprised. On the contrary, he had already surmised that Wijeratne was his late younger brother, Ratran Hami, reborn.
Ratran Hami had, in fact, told Tileratne Hami before he died that he would return as his son. In 1927 Ratran Hami had been engaged to a girl, Podi Menike, with whom he had gone through the preliminary ceremony for a marriage accord- ing to the prevailing custom of the time in what was then Ceylon. Podi Menike, however, had then changed her mind and refused to complete the marriage and return with Ratran Hami to his village. He had then walked back to his village, borrowed money to pay off some debts, sharpened a large knife (kris), returned to Podi Menike's village, and killed her.
Ratran Hami was beaten up by other persons present and arrested. After a trial he was sentenced to death and duly hanged in July 1928. (The interval between Ratran Hami's death and Wijeratne's birth is thus more than 18 years, much longer than that in most cases.)
Tileratne Hami was not married at the time of his brother's death. Readers puzzled over why Huratal Hami was surprised when she overheard Wijeratne's first utterances to himself should remember that Tileratne Hami, during his courtship and later, was unlikely to have told his wife about the criminal conduct and execution of his younger brother. All that had happened many years before and was best forgotten, he must have thought. I believe Huratal's statement that she knew nothing about the murder of Podi Menike until Wijeratne spoke about it.
At his trial. Ratran Hami had pleaded "not guilty" and offered an explanation of acting in self-defense along classical lines. He said that he had been set upon by persons present at Podi Menike's house and in the ensuing melee he had stabbed her. As we have seen, Wijeratne did not believe this. He freely acknowledged his guilt in killing Podi Menike and believed he was paying a penalty for the murder by being reborn with a malformed right arm. Yet he was not forgiving of Podi Menike. He was 14 years old when I first met him, and I asked him what he would do if he found himself in circumstances similar to those of Ratran Hami. He said that he would kill a girl who behaved as Podi Menike had done toward Ratran Hami.
This was not, however, his final view of the matter. I continued to meet Wijeratne from time to time when I was in Sri Lanka. In 1969 he wrote to me and said that on considering further how a man should respond to misbehaving wives he had decided that it was better to divorce than murder them.
Wijeratne's early life was far from uncomplicated. He seems not to have been self-conscious about his birth defect. He was, however, aware that girls might be reluctant to marry a man reputed to have killed his wife, even if he had done this only in a previous life. In 1969 he became mentally ill and was diagnosed as having schizophrenia. He completely recovered from this illness, persisted in his studies, and eventually qualified as a schoolteacher. He also married, and when I last had news of him, in 1982, he was happy and in good health.










18. BIRTH DEFECTS OF THE HEAD AND NECK


The monograph reports 12 cases whose subjects had birth defects of the head and neck. From these I have selected 4 cases to summarize here.
Semih  was born in 1958 in the village of  in the province of Hatay, Turkey. His parents were Ali and Karanfil  Two days before Semih's birth, Karanfil dreamed of a man called Selim Fesli, who had been shot at close range in the head and had died of his wounds a few days later. In the dream the man's face was covered with blood, and he said that he had been shot in the ear. He also said that he was going to stay with the dreamer. Karanfil had never met Selim Fesli, although she had heard vaguely about his death. Her husband, Ali, had known him well.
Semih was born with a severe birth defect of the right ear. The external ear was represented only by a linear stump (Figure 28). In addition, the right side of his face was underdeveloped; in medical terms, it showed hemifacial hypoplasia.
Selim Fesli was a farmer who possessed a modest tract of land near a village called Hatun Koy, which is about 2 kilometers from  At the end of a day's work he was tired and lay down to rest and perhaps sleep before he left his fields and went home. In the twilight a neighbor, Isa Dirbekli, who was out hunt- ing, mistook Selim Fesli for a rabbit and fired his shotgun at close range. He then
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heard Selim Fesli groaning, but instead of helping him fled from the scene, apparently fearful of being attacked by Selim Fesli's sons. Eventually, villagers found the wounded man and took him to a hospital in Iskenderun, where he died 6 days later. We obtained a copy of the postmortem report on Selim Fesli, and it described penetrating shotgun wounds of the right parietal and frontal areas of the skull. The shots had entered the brain, and death was attributed to the wounds of the brain.
Semih began to talk about the life of Selim Fesli when he was about 11/2 years old. His first words on the subject were the names of Isa Dirbekli, the man who had shot Selim Fesli. Thereafter, he stated more details about how, as Selim Fesli (whose name he gave as his own), he had been shot in the ear. He remembered also, and stated, the names of Selim Fesli's wife and all six of their children. Among 15 statements that Semih made about the previous life, 11 were correct, 2 incorrect, and 2 unverified. Because Selim Fesli was well known to Semih's father, 1 am not asserting that Semih made any statements including information that he might not have acquired normally. This does not mean that he did acquire his information normally, only that we cannot be sure that he did not. In addition to his statements, Semih was also credited with having recognized members of Selim Fesli's family and other persons known to him.
Semih had a strong desire to visit Selim Fesli's family. When he was still less than 4 years old, he found his way alone to Hatun Koy and introduced him- self to members of Selim Fesli's family there. Later, he continued visiting the Fesli family and showed a strong attachment to its members. In Hatun Koy, Semih appears to have conducted himself like the father of the family and to have been, at least to some extent, accepted as such by its members. When one of Selim Fesli's sons was married, Semih was not invited to the wedding—possibly from oversight. Semih became annoyed at this neglect and would not speak to the Fesli family for two months. When another of Selim Fesli's sons became engaged and then married, Semih raised some money that he contributed to the bridegroom.
Semih showed an attitude of extreme hostility toward Isa Dirbekli. Isa Dirbekli had been arrested and tried for the killing of Selim Fesli. He pleaded that the shooting was entirely accidental. He was sentenced to 2 years in prison. After his release, he returned to Hatun Koy, where he set up as a vendor of raki. He worked beyond his own village and sometimes came into  Semih believed that Isa Dirbekli had deliberately shot Selim Fesli. When he would see Isa Dirbekli, he would throw stones at him. He intended minimally to break Isa Dirbekli's bottles of raki, and perhaps to break his head and kill him. He openly told us that he intended to kill Isa Dirbekli. isa Dirbekli took these threats seriously—even though Semih was then only a young boy—and stayed away from the area of  where Semih lived.
Bayer, who worked with me in the investigation of the case, tried to persuade Semih to adopt a more forgiving stance. He pointed out that if Semih had been Selim Fesli in a previous life he was now alive again as Semih. This argument availed little with Semih. He recognized its basic wisdom, but said that nevertheless whenever he saw Isa Dirbekli he could not prevent himself from wanting to throw stones at him and beat him up.
Semih continued in this vengeful attitude until the time came for him, at the age of 18, to perform his 2 years of compulsory military service. In the army a plastic surgeon constructed for Semih a remarkably normal-appearing external right ear. In addition, this improvement coincided with a change in hair styles, and Semih began to wear his hair long. Thus he no longer had any visible defect. This, in turn, seems to have enabled him finally to abandon the idea of revenging him- self on Isa Dirbekli.
Süleyman  was born in 1966 in the village of Madenli, south of iskenderun, in the province of Hatay, Turkey. His parents were Habib and Hekime
Hekime dreamed during her pregnancy with Siileyman that a man on horseback approached her. She asked him why he was coming to her. He replied: "I was killed with a blow from a shovel. I want to stay with you and not with anyone else." Hekime later said that she did not recognize the man in the dream, and she seems to have given it little attention at the time.
When Siileyman was born, the back (occipital) part of his skull was depressed, and it had a prominent birthmark (*).
Soon after Siileyman began to speak, he pointed away from his house and said that he wanted to go to "the stream." Thereafter, beginning with fragmentary allusions, he gradually told details about a previous life. He described how he had been a miller and had been killed during a quarrel with a customer about which one of several waiting customers should have their grain milled first. One day, his mother, responding to Siileyman's wish to go to "the stream," let him show the way to a village called Ekber, where there was a stream and a mill. (Ekber is about 2 kilometers southeast of Madenli, although the distance is longer by road.) A little later, Siileyman's father took him on a second visit to Ekber, and on this occasion he met the mother of the man whose life Siileyman seemed to be remembering.
Siileyman had given the name Mehmet as the one he had had in the previous life. With the details of the profession of miller at the village of Ekber, it became clear that Siileyman was speaking about the life of a miller called Mehmet Bekler. Mehmet Bekler was born in Ekber in about 1940. When he grew up and had completed his obligatory military service, he returned to Ekber and operated the flour mill that his family owned. It was a water mill located on a stream outside the village. It is certain—from the medical records that 1 examined—that Mehmet Bekler died after being struck on the back of the head with a flour shovel. What had happened before that is unclear, because in the trial of Mehmet Bayrakdar (the man accused of killing Mehmet Bekler) all the resources of legal defense were used to obtain his acquittal. It seems, however, that when Mehmet Bayrakdar arrived at the mill other customers were already waiting to have their grain milled. He insisted impatiently that his need for flour was greater, and he even went so far as to pour some of his grain into the funnel of the running mill. Seeing this, Mehmet Bekler stopped the mill. The quarrel then became physical. Who struck the first blow is immaterial. Mehmet Bayrakdar hit Mehmet Bekler on the head with a flour shovel. Mehmet Bekler was transported to the Government Hospital in Iskenderun, and he died there on November 28, 1965. The postmortem report included the following statement: "...a portion of the skull of the approximate size of the palm of the hand was fractured and depressed about a centimeter." Death was attributed to "subarachnoid hemorrhage due to trauma to the head."
Although the distance between the villages of the two families concerned in this case is short, the families had no personal acquaintance. Süleyman's family used a mill in Madenli and had no need to go to Ekber. Suleyman's father said that he knew Mehmet Bekler by sight only, and Hekime did not know him at all. Mehmet Bekler's mother said that she had not known the  before the case developed.
I tabulated 18 statements that Siileyman made about the previous life. Of these 14 were correct, 1 incorrect, 1 doubtful, and 2 unverified. Habib  said that when Siileyman had been younger he had stated additional names of the pre- vious family members that, by the time we interviewed him, Habib could no longer remember.
Siileyman liked to visit Ekber, and he exchanged numerous visits with Mehmet Bekler's family. For their part, the Bekler family seem with one excep- tion to have accepted Siileyman's claim to be Mehmet reborn. The exception was Katibeh Bekler, Mehmet Bekler's mother. She had acknowledged the accuracy of Suleyman's statements and had indeed been our principal independent verifier for many of them. Although she did not deny that Siileyman might be Mehmet reborn, she said she was not convinced that he was. I was unable to learn more about the reasons for her opinion; but because Siileyman had shown a somewhat possessive attitude toward the Bekler property, she may have imagined that he- would claim some of it and tried to ward off this possibility by dissociating her- self from his claim to be her son reborn.
Siileyman expressed considerable anger toward Mehmet Bayrakdar and said that when he was older he would kill him. Once, when he saw Mehmet Bayrakdar in Madenli, he pointed to him and said angrily: "He killed me." On at least one occasion, he asked his father to give him a gun so that he could shoot Mehmet Bayrakdar.
Maung Myo Min Thein was born in the village of Wundwin, Upper Burma, on September 14, 1967. His parents were U Aung Maw and Daw Thoung Nyunt.
When Maung Myo Min Thein was born, he was found to have a prominent birthmark—an area of hairlessness—at the back of his head (*). The observation by his parents of this birthmark did not lead immediately to his being identified with the man whose life he later remembered.
The first indication that Maung Myo Min Thein was remembering a previous life came when he was only 8 months old and his parents took him to the nearby Thein-gottara Monastery, where they had planned to pass the entire day in religious observances. At the monastery, Maung Myo Min Thein became fright- ened and began to cry. His parents could not pacify him, and they returned home.
When Maung Myo Min Thein became older, he tried to express memories of a previous life before he could do so properly with words. He would point in the direction of the Thein-gottara Monastery and show by gestures that he had been hit on the head. He was then about 3 years old.
By the age of 4 or 5 Maung Myo Min Thein had sufficient vocabulary so that he could narrate details of the previous life about which, up to this time, he had only given suggestions. He said that he had been the Ven. U Warthawa of Thein-gottara Monastery and that he had been hit on the back of the head with a heavy door bolt. When Maung Myo Min Thein said this, his parents examined his head more closely and found a depression on the back of his head that they appar- ently had not noticed earlier (*).
Maung Myo Min Thein made a few other statements about the previous life. He mentioned that his assailant had been a stranger to the monastery and also that he was mad. He also recalled that (not long before his death) he had asked one of the monks at the monastery not to make a journey to Mandalay that he had been planning; but the monk disregarded his wishes and went anyway.
Maung Myo Min Thein's statements were all correct for the circumstances of the death of the Ven. U Warthawa, who had been the much respected abbot of the Thein-gottara Monastery. A monk who was a stranger had come to the monastery one day, and the Ven. U Warthawa offered him its hospitality. No one appears to have noticed that the monk was mentally deranged. The Ven. U Warthawa knelt down in the temple of the monastery to worship before the image of the Buddha. With no motive that anyone later understood, the stranger monk struck the Ven. U Warthawa on the back of the head with a heavy bolt of the kind used for closing large doors. Stunned, the Ven. U Warthawa called for help, but before anyone could come to him, the stranger monk had taken a gong mallet and struck the Ven. U Warthawa on the back of the head with it. A general scuffle then ensued in which, in addition to the Ven. U Warthawa, another monk of the monastery was killed, and so was the stranger monk who had attacked the Ven. U Warthawa.
Maung Myo Min Thein showed a large number of behaviors—I tabulated eight in all—that were unusual in his family, but appropriate for the life and death of the Ven. U Warthawa. He continued to show the fear of the Thein-gottara Monastery that he had first manifested when only about 8 months old. Some of this fear persisted at least up to the age of 8 years. He showed a strong aversion to unfamiliar monks, a fear that seems to have been part of his memory of having been killed by a strange monk. He showed a distinct coolness toward the Ven. U Zawtika, the monk who had disregarded the Ven. U Warthawa's wishes and left for Mandalay shortly before the Ven. U Warthawa's murder. Maung Myo Min Thein thought that if the Ven. U Zawtika had remained at the monastery, the Ven. U Warthawa would not have been murdered.
As a young child, Maung Myo Min Thein liked to sit with his legs crossed in the habitual posture of Buddhist monks. (The posture is not exclusive to them.) More significantly, he chose a better and higher place on which to sit and would not sit on the empty rice-bags spread on the floor, where the rest of the family sat. This behavior indicated his identification with the role of a monk. Laymen who visit Buddhist monks (in countries of Theravadin Buddhism) are always expected to sit on the floor or on some chair or stool that is lower than the place where the monk is seated.
The Ven. U Warthawa had been keenly interested in music and theatrical productions, which he had both written and produced. Maung Myo Min Thein played with theatrical dolls and set up a miniature toy stage. He presented plays with dolls and other toys.
The Ven. U Warthawa died on April 1, 1949. The interval between his death and Maung Myo Min Thein's birth was therefore more than 18 years, one of the longest among the cases that I have investigated.
Maung Htoo was born in April 1978 in the village of Sipin Tabetkar, near Pyawbwe, in Upper Burma. His parents were U Kyaw Maung and Daw Win Kyi. Maung Htoo was born with a cleft lip (•) and cleft palate (*). When he was a young baby, he cried continuously unless one of his parents held him in their lap. When he was about 11/2 years old, they used their savings to have Maung Htoo's cleft lip repaired, and when this was done he stopped crying.
When Maung Htoo was about 2 years old, he began speaking and soon made a number of statements that led his parents to suspect that he was remembering the life of Daw Win Kyi's uncle, U Paw Kywe.
U Paw Kywe had also lived in Sipin Tabetkar. He had worked first as an assistant to a truck driver and then as a pony-cart driver until he became ill with leprosy and no longer able to work. He had been married and had three children. The leprosy particularly affected his nose and adjoining parts of his mouth. His voice became nasal, which indicated that his palate had become eroded. His appearance became repellent, and his wife. Daw Aye Kyi, deserted him. She moved to Pyawbwe, taking their children with her. Thereafter U Paw Kywe lived alone. From fear of becoming infected, the villagers increasingly shunned him. In this extremity his last remaining friends were Daw Win Kyi and U Kyaw Maung. They would bring him food and water, which they left in a place from which he could reach it. This assistance was the more touching because U Paw Kywe had strongly disapproved of his niece's marriage to U Kyaw Maung. When U Paw Kywe saw that U Kyaw Maung, far from bearing a grudge against him, was fetching water for him, he apologized to U Kyaw Maung and asked forgiveness for the harsh language that he had used.
U Paw Kywe had a good friend, Ko Mya Win, whom he liked to visit. Not wishing to spread his disease, however, he did not enter Ko Mya Win's house. Instead, he would sit on a stone outside the house and converse with Ko Mya Win from there.
One day in 1976 Daw Win Kyi and U Kyaw Maung went to visit U Paw Kywe and not seeing him or hearing any sound from within the house, they entered it and found that he had died. With some other villagers they managed to give U Paw Kywe's body a proper burial.
Maung Htoo's birth defects corresponded—at least in anatomical region— to the part of U Paw Kywe's face that had been particularly destroyed by leprosy. As 1 mentioned, his cleft lip was repaired when he was an infant; and in 1987, when I last had word about him, his parents were planning to take him to Taunggyi for the closure of his cleft palate.
Like many subjects of these cases Maung Htoo at first lacked the vocabulary to express adequately what he wanted to say about the previous life. (His cleft palate also made it difficult to understand him.) He pointed toward the east and told his mother that he came from that direction. He said the words "Aye Kyi" and pointed toward the house of U Paw Kywe, whose wife, Daw Aye Kyi, had returned from Pyawbwe and was then living in the house. He held up three fingers for his mother and said: "I got three," meaning that he had three children.
Later, Maung Htoo spoke about some other details in the life and death of U Paw Kywe. He remembered that U Paw Kywe had been buried in the plastic sheet on which he had slept. (The villagers had done this in order to avoid touching the infected body.) He recalled an accident with U Paw Kywe's pony-cart that occurred 10 years before his death. And he remembered that bees had stung U Paw Kywe when he was working at the Sipin pagoda.
Maung Htoo showed much attachment to U Paw Kywe's old friend, Ko Mya Win, and liked to visit him. He recognized the stone where U Paw Kywe had sat when he visited Ko Mya Win.
When U Paw Kywe's younger brother, U Chit Maung, came to Sipin Tabetkar, Maung Htoo went up to him and addressed him in a manner that was familiar and appropriate for an older brother speaking to a younger one, but total- ly disrespectful in a young boy of 7 speaking to an older man who was a stranger. U Chit Maung took no offence at Maung Htoo's behavior. He said that U Paw Kywe had addressed him in exactly the same manner; and he became convinced that Maung Htoo was his older brother reborn.
U Paw Kywe's oldest son also accepted Maung Htoo's claim to be U Paw Kywe reborn; but his wife and daughter seem not to have done so. I was advised that Daw Aye Kyi would not cooperate in an interview, and I did not try to meet her. I conjecture that she may have been ashamed at having left her husband when he became seriously ill, but I obtained no direct evidence of this.


19. BIRTH DEFECTS INVOLVING TWO OR MORE REGIONS OF THE BODY


Ten cases do not fit appropriately into the chapters on birth defects of the extremities and of the head and neck; the subjects of these cases had defects and some- times birthmarks involving two or more regions of the body. I will present brief accounts of four of these cases.
Ma Htwe Win was born in the village of Kyar-Kan, in Upper Burma, in May 1973. Her parents were U Shein and Ma Ohn Tin. Before Ma Ohn Tin became pregnant with Ma Htwe Win, she dreamed that a man who appeared to be walking on his knees, or perhaps on amputated stumps of legs, was following her; she tried to avoid him, but he continued to approach her. She did not recognize the man. When Ma Htwe Win was born, her parents immediately observed that she had severe birth defects as well as prominent birthmarks. The birthmarks were on her lower left chest in the region of the heart (*) and on her head. The fifth finger of her left hand was absent (*). She had constriction rings around the lower parts of her legs above the ankles and another, particularly deep, constriction ring around the middle of her left thigh (Figure 29).
Ma Htwe Win's parents had no explanation for her birth defects and birth- marks until she began to speak. She then supplied one. She said that she had been a man called Nga Than and that three men had attacked him. He had tried to fight back, but when he made a thrust with his sword it got stuck in the wall, and he was left defenseless. They stabbed him in the left breast, cut his fingers, and hit him on the head. His assailants evidently thought they had killed him. In fact, Nga Than seems to have remained conscious for a time, so that Ma Htwe Win later remembered hearing the murderers drinking while they discussed how best to dis- pose of the body. They finally decided to compress it into as small a space as possible by tying the legs back on the thighs, which would appreciably shorten the body and make it easier to put in a gunny sack and drop in a nearby dried-up well. Ma Htwe Win's statements were correct, so far as they could be verified, for the life and death of a man called U Nga Than.
U Nga Than's wife, Ma Hla Ohn, who had been a party to his murder, let it be known that he had left her and gone to the south. With the body safely disposed of, there was no reason for the police to be interested in a man who was absent because he had simply left his wife.
Ma Hla Ohn then married one of the murderers, but she was not happy with him. One day she and her new husband were drinking and quarreling, and in the course of their exchanges they mentioned the murder of U Nga Than and what they had done with his body. A neighbor overheard this conversation and went to the police, who then took a different view of U Nga Than's absence from the area. They went to the abandoned well and pulled out the body of U Nga Than, which was still tied up with the ropes that had been used to make it more compact.
The well where U Nga Than's body had been placed was near the road linking Kyar-Kan and the main road between the towns of Meiktila and Thazi. It happened that Ma Ohn Tin was returning from the main road to her village when she noticed a small crowd. Its members had gathered around the police, who were just at that moment bringing up U Nga Than's body and untying it. Ma Ohn Tin glanced at the body and ropes and went on her way. She was then about 21/2 months pregnant with Ma Htwe Win; and the dream that I mentioned earlier occurred during the night following her view of the exhumation of U Nga Than's body.
In addition to her statements, Ma Htwe Win spontaneously recognized one of U Nga Than's murderers, who was still in the area, and she showed considerable fear of him. She also recognized U Nga Than's son and asked her parents for some money that she could give him.
Ma Htwe Win showed some masculine traits, such as a wish to wear boys' clothes. Her mother would not allow her to do this. She also expressed a determination to revenge herself on the murderers of U Nga Than. She was distressed by her birth defects. One day, stretching out her legs to show their defects, she said to her grandfather: "Grandpa. Look at what they did to me. How cruel they were."
If Ma Htwe Win's legs were folded back behind her thighs, the constriction rings on her lower legs would be at the same level as the deep constriction ring on her left thigh. We have no verification of exactly how U Nga Than was tied up, but these constriction rings are certainly concordant with what Ma Htwe Win said about how U Nga Than's body was tied up before being put in the well.
The tying of the legs in the fashion Ma Htwe Win described may also explain the dream that Ma Ohn Tin had of a man walking on knees or stumps. This figure would correspond with the mental image of his body that the deceased U Nga Than might have had after his body was put in the well.
Thiang San Kla was born in the village of Ban Rasai, near Surin, in Surin Province, Thailand, on October 9, 1924. His parents were Charon and Puen San Kla.
Charon and Puen had both dreamed before Thiang's birth that Puen's deceased brother Phoh had appeared to them and said that he wished to be reborn as their child. At Thiang's birth or soon afterward, he was found to have six birth defects and birthmarks, which I shall describe later. These, together with his parents' dreams, made them think that Thiang was Phoh reborn. Phoh had died about a year before Thiang's birth.
Phoh San Kla had been a notorious cattle thief, and one day when he went to a village where a number of his enemies had gathered, they attacked and killed him. He was hit on the back of the head with a heavy knife of the kind that Thai villagers use for opening coconuts or chopping wood. The blow probably killed Phoh instantly. Members of Phoh's family, including both of Thiang's parents, went to the village where Phoh had been killed and viewed his body, which was buried in that village 3 days after his death. This occurred in October 1923.
Some time before his death, Phoh had injured his right foot in an accident. His right great toe became infected and never healed before he died. It apparently suppurated, because his sister Ping later told me that Phoh's right great toe smelled badly.
Thiang's two major birth defects corresponded respectively to the fatal wound on Phoh's head and the chronic infection of his right great toe. On the back of the left side of his head, Thiang had an extensive lesion that in medical terms was a verrucous epidermal nevus (Figure 30). When 1 examined it in 1969, it was slightly raised above the surrounding skin, hairless, heavily pigmented, and much wrinkled. It was irregular in shape and measured about 5-6 centimeters long and 1-1.5 centimeters wide. The defect of Thiang's right great toe consisted of a par- tially detached portion of the nail of that toe, and this nail or the tissue beneath it was darkly pigmented (Figure 31). Thiang's other birthmarks were of lesser importance in the investigation of the case, because they had faded by the time we studied it. They were said to have been marks on the backs of his hands and the insteps of his feet that corresponded to tattoos on Phoh.
Thiang was less than 4 years old when he began to speak about the life of Phoh. We know that he was not older, because his father died when Thiang was about 4, and he had become convinced before he died that Thiang was Phoh reborn. (Part of his conviction, however, would have derived from the dreams that he and his wife had and from Thiang's birth defects.)
A policeman who had investigated both Phoh's cattle thieving and his murder learned that Thiang was claiming to be Phoh reborn and went to see him. He later told us that Thiang at once recognized him and called him by name. Thiang also correctly stated to him the names of the persons who had killed Phoh. Thiang himself told us that Phoh's wife, Pai, also visited him and tried to test his knowledge of Phoh. She brought with her a number of articles that had belonged to Phoh as well as some that had not. Thiang said that he easily sorted out the articles that had belonged to Phoh and that he also narrated to Pai incidents of their married life. Pai had died by the time of our investigation, so we could not independently verify Thiang's account of their meeting. We could, however, interview Phoh's daughter, Pah. She said that Thiang had spontaneously recognized her and called her "daughter." He convinced her that he was her father reborn by his detailed memories of Phoh's life and death. Thiang was about 7 years old at this time. Another of our informants said that Thiang had laid claim to some land adjoining an army camp, on the grounds that it had belonged to Phoh. He correctly stated the circumstances in which Phoh had acquired the land. 1 need hardly say that an adjudicating court rejected his claim.
As a young child Thiang said his name was Phoh, and he would sometimes become angry if he was called Thiang instead of Phoh. He sometimes called his father "brother" and called his paternal aunt "sister," instead of "aunt."
Thiang had no phobia of knives, and he seems also to have had no fear of the village where Phoh had been killed. He did, however, show a markedly venge- ful attitude toward the people who had killed Phoh. He told me that even in mid- dle adulthood he sometimes had fantasies of going to the village where Phoh had been killed and there killing any of Phoh's murderers who might still be living.
In honesty of character, however, Thiang differed from Phoh. He made a good soldier during a period of service in the Royal Thai Army, and afterward he returned to his village, where he eventually became its respected headman. His memories of the life of Phoh with reflections on his misdeeds and death led him to resolve to be a better person.
Ariya Noikerd was born in Bangkok, Thailand, on November 7, 1968. Her parents were Hong and Nitaya Noikerd. Before Ariya's birth both her mother and her mother's older sister, La-Mom, dreamed that Apirak, a son of the family who had been killed 3 months earlier, was going to return to the family. Nitaya dreamed that Apirak asked permission to come back, but in La-Mom's dream he only said that he would be reborn in the family. Ariya was born about a year after Apirak's death.
When Ariya was born, she was quickly found to have a widespread port-wine stain birthmark on the left side of her face and head (*). In addition, she had an unusual cleft or deep crease in the skin of her lower back, near the midline and just above her right buttock (*). Apirak had had an exactly similar cleft at the same site.
To understand the port-wine stain birthmark on Ariya's face and head, we must go back to Apirak's death. He was a boy of just 13 when he went with his family on a visit to the town of Pakchong, 180 kilometers northeast of Bangkok. While there he (and some other persons) were struck by a truck. Apirak was killed almost instantly. Apirak's grandfather was injured, but other members of the family escaped. Because Apirak was killed in Pakchong, his body had to be transported from there to Bangkok. There was some mismanagement in this, but in due course, 7 days after his death, his body was cremated in Bangkok. In the meantime, it had not been washed, and blood remained on the face and head where it had been right after the accident. I did not learn, and Apirak's parents probably did not know, from what injury or injuries Apirak had died. I do not know that he was injured in the head, but think this probable. Both of Apirak's parents and his maternal aunt (La-Mom) said that the birthmarks on Ariya's face and head were at exactly the places where blood had been on Apirak's face when his body was cremated.
Apirak had been a distinctly girlish boy. Although he did not refuse to wear boys' clothes, he liked to wear girls' clothes, and when he did so he would apply rouge, lipstick, and eye makeup to his face. He wore girls' clothes so often that his mother remembered him more as thus dressed instead of wearing boys' trousers. He seemed to her also to have a feminine gait. He often played girls' games, and most of his friends were girls. He had said at least once that he would like to be reborn as a girl.
Apirak seemed somewhat depressed and several times expressed a wish to die. When reproached for having such thoughts, he said that he wanted to know what happened after death.
Apirak's only other relevant trait was a fondness for dancing to drums.
I think I reached this case sooner after it developed than any other that I have investigated. Ariya's parents were convinced on the basis of the announcing dreams and Ariya's birthmarks and birth defect that she was Apirak reborn before she had said a word. An account of the case appeared in a Bangkok newspaper in December 1968, and I went to visit Ariya and her family in March 1969.
At that time Ariya was still less than 5 months old. In 1971 I continued the study of the case, and by this time Ariya had made a few statements about the life of Apirak. After that, I lost touch with the family for a time, but found them again in 1980.
When Ariya spoke about the previous life, she did so only in response to questions, and at least one of these was a leading one. She did, however, communicate that the birthmarks on her head came from a "wound by the car." And she identified a photograph of Apirak as one of "Ut," which was Apirak's nickname. Her maternal aunt mixed some of Apirak's toys and clothes that the family had kept with other similar items and asked Ariya to select those that had belonged to Apirak. She said that Ariya did this successfully.
Ariya seems not to have had a phobia of trucks when young, but in 1980 I learned that she then did have a phobia of them. She showed markedly masculine behavior and preferred wearing boys' clothes instead of girls' clothes. In 1980 her preference for wearing boys' clothes was continuing. At the age of about 2 Ariya spontaneously began to dance when she heard drums. Her family noticed this and thought it suggestive of Apirak's interest in dancing to drums; but I did not learn that Ariya showed this interest on later occasions.
Like most port-wine stains, Ariya's did not fade as she became older. Both the birthmark on her face (*) and the cleft near her buttocks (*) were just as prominent in 1980, when she was 111/2, as they had been when I first saw her as a baby only a few months old.
This is the third case in which informants have attributed birthmarks to blood left on the previous personality's body when it was cremated: The other two were those of Sunita Singh and Narong Yensiri. A somewhat similar case is that of Ma Chit Chit Than, in which a birthmark corresponded to spilled medicine.
Sukh Lal Sharma was born in 1908. The case is therefore very old. Moreover, 1 never met Sukh Lal, who died in 1943. I did, however, meet his older brother, Samokhi Lal, and another villager of Bisalpura, Madhya Pradesh, India, where Sukh Lal had been born and lived. Moreover, a careful Indian investigator, R.B.S. Sunderlal, studied the case when Sukh Lal was about 10 or 12 years old and in 1924 published a report of it in a French scientific journal. In order to get to know Sukh Lal well, he had kept him in his house for a week. He had also studied police reports concerning the murder of a man called Kashi Ram, whose life Sukh Lal remembered when he was a child.
Kashi Ram had been a tax collector, and he became involved in a case for tax evasion against a man called Chhotey Lal, who came from a nearby village, Nonenhta. Chhotey Lal tried to win Kashi Ram over to his side, but Kashi Ram proved incorruptible. Chhotey Lal shot Kashi Ram in the chest, and then, while he was still alive, he mutilated Kashi Ram's hand. The murder occurred near the above-mentioned villages, which are in the extreme northern part of what was then the princely state of Gwalior (now part of the state of Madhya Pradesh). Chhotey Lal fled from the scene of the murder, managed to escape into British territory, and was never prosecuted. Kashi Ram was murdered not more than a year before Sukh Lal's birth.
I obtained from Samokhi Lal what I believe is a satisfactory description of Sukh Lal's birth defects. His right chest had a deep concavity (*). His right hand had only a stump of the thumb and no other fingers except the little finger, which was essentially normal; part of the palm of the hand was absent (*). (Although I have indicated that the monograph includes figures of Sukh Lal's birth defects, these are not photographs but artist's sketches made from the descriptions of the defects.) Sunderlal stated that Sukh Lal's birth defects corresponded to "the description of the dead body in the police file."
When he was a young child, Sukh Lal said that his name had been Kashi Ram and that he had been killed by Chhotey Lal. When asked about the birth defect of his right hand, he said that "kakka" had cut it. ("Kakka" was a nickname for Chhotey Lal.) Sukh Lal remembered details of the last minutes of Kashi Ram's life. He said that after Chhotey Lal shot him in the chest, he cut off the fingers of his right hand except for the little finger. He mutilated the hand because it had been writing out tax bills; but he spared the little finger because it had not been involved in holding the pen that wrote the bills.
Chhotey Lal, who had later returned to the area, learned of Sukh Lal's state- ments and went over to see him. He was standing in a crowd of people when Sukh Lai recognized him and called out that Chhotey Lal was his enemy and murderer.
The birth defect of Sukh Lal's right hand is an extremely rare one and occurs in about 1 in 150,000 births.


20. EXPERIMENTAL BIRTH DEFECTS


This chapter could be considered a sequel to Chapter 10, in which I described cases of experimental birthmarks. The difference is that in experimental birth defects the bodies of deceased persons are not just marked, but mutilated in some way, and later-born babies with birth defects are said to be these babies reborn; informants say the birth defects correspond to the mutilations on the deceased baby.
The practice of mutilating certain dead babies occurs across the entire extent of sub-Saharan West Africa, from Nigeria in the east to Senegal in the west. It derives from the belief in the cultures of this region that children who die have a major responsibility for their deaths. (This attitude differs markedly from the one prevailing in the West, according to which, when a child dies, blame becomes attached to the child's parents or doctors, or, if they seem faultless, to God or chance.)
In West Africa two or more successive deaths of infants in the same family lead the parents to believe that the same soul is returning to them, only to die, be reborn, and die again. These are then called "repeater children," and to stop such a useless and vexatious cycle of rebirth and death, the parents sometimes mutilate a recently deceased child. They believe that this inculcates the lesson that the mis- behaving soul of the child should either go away and never come back or, if it returns to the family, stop dying in childhood and grow up. Sometimes parents suspect children who are physically frail or significantly ill of being repeater chil- dren. In such cases they may carry out, or have someone else carry out, a sort of preemptive mutilation of the child to prevent it from dying.
Details of the belief in repeater children and of the mutilations practiced vary among the different ethnic groups of West Africa, but what I have described should suffice for the understanding of the three cases that 1 will now summarize. They all occurred among the Igbo of Nigeria.
Among the Igbo a child thought to be a repeater child is called an ogbanje. In the region around Awgu, in Anambra State, children suspected of being an ogbanje sometimes have the last part of the left little finger amputated as a means of preventing them from dying. When Dr. Stuart Edelstein and I were in Awgu in
1981, we asked the principal of a school to show us some children who had had parts of their fingers amputated for this reason. Within a few days he found and showed us 13 such children.
All but one of the children had definite scars on the stumps of their shortened left little fingers, but one had no scar. He was Onuchukwu Nwobodo, and we studied his case further.
Onuchukwu's father said that he had been born (in about 1968) with both of his fifth toes absent (*) and the end part (distal phalanx) of his left little finger also absent (*). Onuchukwu never spoke about a previous life. His father was our sole informant for the case, and we reviewed with him conjectures about a previous life that Onuchukwu might have had.
It had been suggested that Onuchukwu might have been the reincarnation of his paternal grandfather, but this proposal included no explanation of Onuchukwu's birth defects. A more plausible explanation was that he had had a previous life as an ogbanje and had been mutilated after dying. If so, this life could not have been as a child in his own family, because before Onuchukwu's birth they had had no child die. Several cousins had been considered ogbanjes, and Onuchukwu might have had a previous life as one of them. None, however, was identified as Onuchukwu's previous personality.
Cordelia Ekouroume was born in Umuokue, Imo State, Nigeria, in 1958. Her parents were Ekouroume Uchenda and his wife, Irodirionyerku. Cordelia was born with some of the most severe birth defects of the hands, legs, and feet that I have ever seen (*). Most of her fingers and toes were short and had no nails. Some were webbed together. Her lower legs had constriction rings. Her father, who was our sole informant for the case, explained them in the following way.
Ekouroume Uchenda had a sister. Wank wo, who believed herself to be mistreated by a man and asked her brother for help. He told us that he was a skilled sorcerer and that he obligingly killed the man who had offended his sister, not with ordinary physical violence, but with sorcery.
Some time afterward, Wankwo died. Ekouroume Uchenda believed that one of his next children was Wankwo reborn, and he welcomed her back into the family. Then, however, this baby died in infancy. Ekouroume Uchenda became enraged at the ingratitude of this child—the reincarnated Wankwo, he believed—in dying so young. He considered that he had been badly repaid by his sister after all the trouble he had taken to remove by sorcery a man who had mistreated her. In his anger he chopped off the fingers and toes of the dead baby. Then, symbolically to prevent it from ever walk- ing again, he tied a rope around its legs. As he was carrying out these mutilations, he spoke to the soul of the dead baby (and, he believed, that of his ungrateful sister) and told it never to return. To enforce this proscription, he put some of the baby's chopped off fingers and toes in a little bag, which he hung up in his house.
Following these events Ekouroume Uchenda—who, like many Igbo men, was a polygamist—married another junior wife, Irodirionyerku. She knew little or nothing about the history of her husband's sister and the baby he thought was his sister reborn. One day she was cleaning the house and noticed the little bag of the baby's remnants that Ekouroume Uchenda had hung up. Thinking it of no importance she threw it away. She happened to mention the matter to her husband, who was horrified at what she had done, because he believed she had broken the spell by which he had sought to prevent his sister from ever again being reborn in their family. He was afraid that his wife's next baby would be seriously malformed. He proved correct, because this next baby was Cordelia.
Ekouroume Uchenda assured us that Cordelia's birth defects corresponded to the mutilations he had made on the dead baby that he believed had been the reincarnation of his sister. We do not need to believe that he precisely remembered each finger and toe that he had cut off the baby; but I have no reason to doubt that he was correct in general when he told us that Cordelia's birth defects corresponded to the mutilations that he had made on the dead baby.
Cordelia, I was told, never spoke about a previous life. We were not permitted to interview her, partly, it would seem, because she was understandably sensi- tive about her birth defects. Yet she stood cooperatively while I examined and photographed her.
Florence Onumegbu was born in Isieke-Ibeku, Imo State, Nigeria, in about 1942. Her parents were Dick Onubugo and his wife, Hannah.
When Florence was born, she was quickly found to have severe birth defects of both her feet and both her hands. The last thirds of both feet, including the toes, were absent (*), The fingers of both hands (except for the thumbs) were markedly shortened, and most had no nails (*).
Florence's father had died before I investigated this case, and her mother, Hannah Dick (whom I tried to interview), was a reluctant witness. Most of the Igbo are formally Christians, and, although most of them that I came to know did not believe that Christianity conflicts with their traditional religion, some did; and Hannah Dick was one who did. She preferred not to discuss events that had occurred "when she had been a pagan."
My principal informant for the case was, therefore, Florence's husband, Timothy Onumegbu. He was necessarily a secondhand witness for the main events of the case; he assured me, however, that he had had considerable hesitation about marrying a woman with birth defects as serious as those of Florence. He therefore took much trouble to interrogate the persons directly involved in the case before he made up his mind to marry Florence. (I did not learn why he believed that he should make such an inquiry, but he may have been thinking that Florence's defects might be inherited by any children they would have.)
One of Florence's uncles and his wife had had several children who died in infancy. The uncle, angered by this succession of infant deaths, had mutilated the body of the last dead baby. Florence was born not in the family of the uncle, but in that of his brother.
Timothy Onumegbu told us that he had learned that Florence's birth defects corresponded to the mutilations her uncle had made on his dead baby.
Florence had no imaged memories of a previous life. Her own five children were normal.
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