The article I have chosen starts off discussing three separate spirits that are believed in throughout Begameder, Ethiopia. The Zar is the only one of the three spirits that is not known necessarily as bad, while the other two are. The zar is known as a nighttime spirit and is believed in by the Jewish and Christian communities in Begameder. The Zar doctor can be a woman while the clientele are also usually women as well. Zars are spirits that possess individuals and are explanations for people acting out of the ordinary. The curing process for healing of a Zar spirit is not meant to be exorcist but instead to train the Zar to heal the person and keep them healthy instead of harming them. The Zar is used to explain mental illnesses in this culture that in Western societies would be psychological disorders. the Zar spirits are known for their hysteria and catatonic states that can possess men and women.

There are several forms of medical professional in the ethiopian culture. The Zar doctor treats his patients by putting them into a trance and relieving them of their spirits and sometimes use group sessions to help rid the body. In this culture they have a Zar Conference where the Zars compete and show off their different methods and skills to others. The Zar doctor is noted the highest amongst the healers and once you participate you become amoung the Zar cult even as a patient. The Zar doctor is belived credible because he is a patient and a provider at the same time. Not only does he heal others but he also has Zar spirits in himself. He is able to learn how to control his own Zar through a long apprenticeship with a senior Zar. The Zar doctor is excused from social normals in the community and can be arrogant. They also stand out in a crowd by wearing colored head dresses instead of plain white ones.


Kahana, Yael. “The Zar Spirits, A Category of Magic in the System of Mental Healthcare in Ethiopia.” International Journal of Social Psychiatry(1985):125-143.   Accessed July 17,2014.  DOI:10.1177/002076408503100207

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Danielle Boore says:

    I think Hannah picked a perfect example of what I believe a culture bound syndrome is. I think that culture can be defined as a group of people living near each other that practice similar beliefs and rituals. In lecture we talked about how culture bound syndromes are usually not what most people would think of when they hear illness. The Zar is exactly that, not an illness like cancer or the flu, but a spirit. We also talked about different culture and symptoms and a couple that relate to Zar specifically are psychological symptoms and spiritual afflictions. The advantage of culture bound syndromes is there is usually a doctor or healer that can treat the patient and make this ‘illness’ or spirit go away, or change it and make it into something positive. I do not know anything about Zar but after reading this I took it that once the Zar is cured by a specific doctor it turns into something beneficial, the spirit will keep them healthy. I’m not sure if they believe people who have been previously affected by Zar and then healed have superior health to people who have never been affected. Maybe it just makes them back to how they were originally which is considered healthy compared to their previous state. As Hannah stated that in another culture this illness would be viewed as a psychological disorder in Western societies.

  2. Cherie Griffey says:

    I thought that this was a very interesting post about a cultural-bound syndrome. I never heard of Zar which was a spirit that Ethiopians believe in and it is quite interesting to hear about it. Defining culture in my own words I would say that it is a group of people who all believe in the same thing and they have the same practices and social norms. This illness is a good example of a cultural-bound syndrome because it is something that is only in Begameder Ethiopia. Zar is only believed by the Jewish and Christian communities in Begameder Ethiopia. This illness is a culture-bound syndrome because it is what they believe to explain mental illness, (my post was about mental illness in the United States and it is interesting to see what Ethiopians view point of it). Mental illness can be caused from a lot of things and in my post it mainly tied mental illness to your surroundings and culture. This culture had a different healing method, the doctor would train the Zar to heal the person and keep them healthy instead of harming them. It is interesting to know that the Zar doctors sees himself as a patient and a provider at the same time and is known as the highest among healers and that he has Zar spirits within himself.

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