Grisi Siknis in Nicaragua

The Grisi siknis is known as the “crazy sickness” or “collective madness” most prominent in Central America it seems to affect many tribes in the region. Both articles describe the ineffectiveness of western medicine in healing this illness and how it should be recognized as a true disease because we should realize an illness is not solely based on biological markers but complex intertwining of various aspects of culture with human social conduct.


In the news article (Widdicombe) they explain that 60 people of the remote jungle tribe in Nicaragua known as the Miskito. The sickness allows for the person to go into deep unconsciousness sort of in a deep trance then suddenly wake up to a manic episode where they run wildly trying to escape from “invisible enemies”. Most commonly the illness is found to strike women but is known to ransack through entire villages. During the manic episode “victims often rip off their clothes, flee into the forest or the murky, fast-flowing river, and appear to develop superhuman strength. In such a crazed state, these women are difficult to stop. With their eyes closed, and armed with machetes or sticks, they think nothing of attacking whoever or whatever stands between them and the mysterious force that beckons”(Ross). Once someone is a victim of the illness it cause a sort of hysteria among the surrounding people which might indicate for a high incidence rate since so argue it’s a psychological and spiritual matter.


In the news article mentioned they tried using anti-convulsive drugs and anti-depressants but that they were ineffective. They then tried testing the local drinking water and advised the locals to drink coconut juice since in past outbreaks investigation concluded that people had put hallucinogenic substances in the water, but nothing was found. Then moving onto Miskito healers many of the victims were reported to being healed 15 to 30 days later, using the ancient rituals of the native healers. Thus western trained doctors were left to only aid and support the healers because of their effectiveness with the illness.



-Nicola Ross, “Nicaragua’s Crazy Sickness: an indigenous community grapples with a mysterious ailment”, The Walrus Magazine, June 2006 Magazine (online), Link:


-Rupert Widdicombe, “Nicaragua Village in grip of Madness”, The Guardian, News, December 2003 News (online), Link:

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Valencia Smith says:

    I would define culture as the similar beliefs and traditions between a group of people that involve lifestyle, spiritual, and similar ways of life that make them different from another group of people. Culture is something that I feel makes us very unique depending on where we come from and the traditions and beliefs we choose to follow.
    I thought that this sickness was very interesting to read about because it reminded me of someone basically having a nervous breakdown. I think that in others cultures this condition could be called a nervous breakdown because it has all the similar symptoms. I feel like because Western medicine is not as advanced as it needs to be, because who have this condition can’t seek the help that they need.
    I feel like this illness should be considered a CBS because I think that the ways of life of the Nicaraguan people may cause them to go into these madness episodes. I agree with the fact that illness does not only involve the interruption of your physical health but also your mental state. And because of this, Grisi is considered a disease.
    A different approach to studying this condition could involve different research trials to try and pinpoint the origin of the condition and try to find a solution to fixing the problem.

  2. Ava Peera says:

    I believe culture is the sharing of beliefs and values within a group of people. I believe culture is a way for people to identify with other people that they can relate to. Location and origin of a group of people also has a role in culture. People with similar backgrounds and heritage tend to share the same cultural beliefs and practices.
    I believe this illness should be considered a culture-bound syndrome. It is clearly an illness that greatly affects a certain cultural group. Grisi Siknis is a very prevalent illness for the people of the Miskito tribe. Even though it is not clear why or how the illness exactly comes about, it is clear that it is attacking a certain location and group of people. An advantage to labeling the illness as a CBS is to make it more well known. Hopefully if Grisi Siknis is categorized as a CBS then more people will hear about the illness and try to help the Nicaraguan people. A disadvantage may be that people might disregard the illness since it is not directly affecting his or her own cultural group.
    This illness sounds like the people are experiencing hallucinations, a bit of dementia, and having mental breakdowns. In the Western culture, it would probably be treated as one of the above illnesses.

Leave a Reply