Latah has been described as a culture-bound syndrome. This condition originated from Southeast Asia and it can occur by the startle reflex. A startle reflex can last up to 30 minutes. This outburst can consists of screaming, dancing, and a person laughing hysterically. According to the Malayan culture the term Latah comes from the root word “lata” and this means “fool” or “defect” (Winzeler). Some symptoms according to Winzeler include a person moving violently, crying uncontrollably, and shouting out sexual or vulgar language. A person can also engage in the imitation of others or things and have the same speech and movement over and over again. Latah syndrome occurs within the Malayan and Javanese cultures. What I found interesting about Latah is that when a person who has Latah is startled they usually imitate the behavior or obey the commands of the person that is around them or trying to get their attention. Most cases of Latah occur intentionally to amuse onlookers and to draw attention to the person who has Latah. It seems like Latah is somewhat gendered based after reading the article because it mentioned that middle-aged women usually get Latah. Winzeler also mentions that Latah can occur in individuals for a number of reasons. Death of a love one or a child and very traumatic experiences can be the reason Latah occurs in individuals.
It almost seems like individuals who struggle in controlling their emotions and behavior suffer from Latah. And since they cannot properly cope or deal with life struggles they act out and have these continued outburst. There appears to be a little controversy when it comes to Latah being identified as an actual illness because there is a lack of individuals who experience and report this syndrome. There are rarely no individuals who actually seek treatment and help for Latah. Also, I find it interesting that there have been no reports on traditional remedies for Latah. Perhaps, Malayan people and their culture do not classify or view Latah as a mental illness. Western culture once again tries to classify Latah as a disease or mental illness and this may not be the case within the Malayan culture.
Robert Winzeler. The Study of Malayan Latah. Indonesia, No. 37 (Apr., 1984), pp. 77-104 Published by: Southeast Asia Program Publications at Cornell University Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3350936 . Accessed: 20/07/2012