Baridi among the Bena peoples of Tanzania

The article I chose to review is called “Baridi: A Culture-Bound syndrome Among the Bena Peoples of Tanzania” and is written by Anitta Juntenen, PhD. In this article, the culture bound syndrome called baridi, or emotional coldness, is discussed.  Baridi is found among the Bena peoples found in the Ilembula village in Tanzania. Baridi is a progressing condition that starts with mild symptoms but progresses to influence the sufferer’s physical, mental, social, sexual, and economical well-being.

The study applied an ethnomedical approach because it allowed the researchers to gain an understanding of baridi from the cultural perspective of the Bena peoples. Fieldwork, participatory observations and open interviews were used to gain information and knowledge on the Bena peoples and baridi. Informants for the study came from all roles, sex, status, etc. in order to obtain a representative sample of the Bena peoples.

Family and kinship are both important in the traditional Bena lifestyle.  Families are extended and include parents, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. The extended family also includes dead ancestors, who are called “living-dead” because they live in the world of spirits and are capable of blessing or punishing members of their families. Families are patrilineal; the father is the head of the house, the women tends to the children and doesn’t question the father, and the children must respect their elders.

Baridi has many causes including disrespectful behaviour within the family, being cursed by parents, and acting against the culture.  Disrespectful behaviour within the family includes criticism of elders, bad language, neglecting duties, disobedience and breaking sexual taboos.

Symptoms and signs of baridi start quite mild with coldness, fatigue, restlessness, lack of appetite and loss of weight. Symptoms of severe baridi include deformations in joints, limb weakness, mental illness, and sexual disability.

This affects individuals in many different ways based on the severity of the baridi being experienced.  Social and economic losses are the biggest consequence of being afflicted with baridi.  This can include failing exams at school, loss of job, loss of property, loss of marriage partner and loneliness. The article also mentions that deformities and mental disabilities in children are thought to be caused by what their parents have done.

Just like there are many causes of baridi, there are also many treatments for baridi. Most of the treatments have a holistic and traditional approach. These include detection of the cause of baridi through a traditional healer, public confession to family members, apology to elders and living-dead, giving meals and gifts, and local herbal remedies.

This study found baridi to be mainly a mental illness because its characteristic symptom is emotional coldness that later manifests through physical symptoms.  Respect is the central value of the Bena peoples, and going against this value has severe consequences for the people. Symptoms, treatments and prevention of baridi are all explained by the beliefs, culture and communal aspects of the Bena peoples.

Juntunen, Anitta. “Baridi: A Culture-Bound syndrome Among the Bena Peoples of Tanzania.” Journal of Transcultural Nursing 16: 15-22. (accessed July 16, 2014).

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