Amok in Malaysia

The article that I found was written by Manuel L. Saint Martin, M.D., and J.D. In his article he described what Amok was, when it was first discovered, possible explanations, modern versions of Amok, and how to prevent it. His definition of Amok or Running Amok is, “an irrational acting individual who causes havoc.” Captain Cook first found it among the Malay tribesmen in 1770. Later was the culture-bound syndrome found in Laos, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, and Puerto Rico. Saint Martin stated that it was found that due to the geographic location of these areas, the remote isolation, and the spiritual beliefs of the people living there supported the production of the mental illness not reported in other nations. The violent outburst were said to be caused by the “hantu belian” or the evil tiger spirit. The people affected by the spirit would go into fits of rage. Most episodes would result in numerous deaths and other victims being injured. As anthropologists looked into Amok, in recent years they believed that the episodes were due to psychosis, a personality disorder, or a delusional disorder. The violent episodes are usually set off due to a preceding factor such as money trouble, death in the family, or any other traumatic event that could affect someone.


Biologically, Amok is due to mental illness that has gone untreated. To prevent someone from running Amok they need prompt treatment of the underlying condition like I have stated earlier. Culturally speaking Amok could be looked at differently in different areas of the world. In these areas I have mentioned, it is believed to be caused by the evil tiger spirit. If someone were to run Amok in a modern Western society we would classify it as psychosis, or a personality disorder. However, in Western societies there is more treatment for those disorders versus in Malaysia or the other locations I mentioned. Treatment could be going to a psychiatrist or psychologist, taking bi-polar prescription medications, or even being institutionalized in a mental illness hospital.


Saint Martin, Manuel L. “Running Amok: A Modern Perspective on a Culture-Bound Syndrome.”

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Vanessa Salmo says:

    Culture to me is the way a person perceives their heritage and how they choose to show their love of the country their ancestors or they originated from. To me culture is a way to show how you are unique and to celebrate one’s racial background. Like it states in the class materials culture is not bounded nor is it static. This means that no one person will have the same cultural practices as the next because these thing change over time and are molded by the generations that came before you. Even within populations of people within the same area there are local variations of the practices of the cultural and the illness that are bound withing that population of people.
    This illness Amok in Malaysia is to me considered a culture bound syndrome. Although it is called something different here in America the cause and treatment are completely different in Malaysia. In that culture this mental disorder is thought to be caused by a bad spirit and is probably treated with traditional medicine like rituals and ceremonies. Whereas in America we have a more modern view of medicine and this mental disorder is treated with medications and therapy. There is an advantage to treating this mental disorder differently in different cultures because in Malaysia they may not have access to these medications and their only way to treat this is by traditional medicine. Having an ethnocentric view of their culture and this disease helps me to see the differences and similarities between our cultures and how we perceive Amok in Malaysia.

  2. Amber Roberts says:

    To me, culture is a shared knowledge and set of traditions, values, and beliefs among a certain group of people. Culture reflects who you are and where you came from but it can be practiced differently depending on the individual. Culture is also dynamic and not static because certain aspects are sure to change over time. Cultural practices are passed on from generation to generation, but over time there may be some slight changes but the fundamental principles will remain the same.

    I think that the Amok illness in Malaysia should be considered a culture bound syndrome. Although other nations experience similar mental illness, Amok was first discovered in geographical locations that were isolated, and that shared similar spiritual beliefs. They specifically believed that the illness came from “hantu belian” or evil tiger spirit. This is unique to Malaysia and demonstrates how this syndrome is culture bound.

    In the US we would consider Amok to be psychosis or a personality disorder and treatment would probably involve a psychiatrist and pharmaceutical drugs. However, the advantage of Amok being a CBS might lie within its treatment. In Malaysia, they might not have access to such drugs and instead they might use rituals or non-western healing methods to treat the illness. This coincides with their belief that Amok comes from the evil tiger spirit and can therefore be treated with alternative methods rather than with traditional medicine.

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