Latah in Southeast Asia

The article for a Cultural Bound Syndrome I selected was from Robert L. Winzeler on Latah in Southeeast Asia in locations such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Latah is a sudden change in behavioral patterns as a reaction towards foul language and other acts. The research Winzeler used was based off of the idea that Southeast Asians often maintain full control of their body language and keep their composure in situations of intense duress. Latah essentially provides the opposite of this thought through involuntary responses from the body. The effects of this response are numerous and hard to analyze, but clearly manifest themselves in both culture-specific as well as cross-cultural manners. The reaction of Latah seem to mimic that of what would be seen with the response of a child within certain developmental stages. The Malaya Latah have been analyzed as having four levels: the acute (similar to simple reactions to startling situations with an attempt to strike or lash out at the cause), the second would be to react to something as if it would cause mortal terror to them, the third is similar to Tourettes syndrome and involuntary act out mannerisms or words around them at the time, and the final and most severe is the complete obedience to the person who has sparked the Latah in to occurrence.

It is interesting to see how it has been identified as a cultural syndrome despite having worldwide appearances. What seems to be the differentiating factor would be different reactions from different demographics in separate locations. This concept is also seemed to be all within the mind of an individual as opposed to a physical illness. The manner in which to cure this ill is mostly within the power of the mind, in many cases, education on the syndrome and talking through it seems to be something that is the most effective of prophylactics.

Sources:

The Study of Malayan Latah
Robert Winzeler
Indonesia, No. 37 (Apr., 1984), pp. 77-104
Article DOI: 10.2307/3350936
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3350936

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Mary Normand says:

    I would define culture as a group of people who have the same traditions and beliefs. Sometimes there are many cultures within one country and sometimes cultures transcend living together. The Western culture goes beyond just being in the United States, and there are many cultures within the United States.
    I don’t think that Latah is a culture-bound syndrome because I think it could be classified as something in western medicine. It sounds like the reason they consider it a culture-bound syndrome is because it is so rare in their culture to be loud or out of control. But in our culture it would just be classified as some type of mental illness. The person may just be under intense pressure, especially since the culture expects people to be quiet and controlled all the time. The disadvantage to considering it a CBS is that they are putting possibly a wide range of disorders into one syndrome. It seems that if someone is acting a little off, they just diagnose the person with latah.
    In western medicine, this syndrome may be considered Tourettes, autism, or even anxiety. Using western biomedicine, this syndrome could be better treated than just “talking through it.”

  2. Mary Normand says:

    I would define culture as a group of people who have the same traditions and beliefs. Sometimes there are many cultures within one country and sometimes cultures transcend living together. The Western culture goes beyond just being in the United States, and there are many cultures within the United States.
    I don’t think that Latah is a culture-bound syndrome because I think it could be classified as something in western medicine. It sounds like the reason they consider it a culture-bound syndrome is because it is so rare in their culture to be loud or out of control. But in our culture it would just be classified as some type of mental illness. The person may just be under intense pressure, especially since the culture expects people to be quiet and controlled all the time. The disadvantage to considering it a CBS is that they are putting possibly a wide range of disorders into one syndrome. It seems that if someone is acting a little off, they just diagnose the person with latah.
    In western medicine, this syndrome may be considered Tourettes, autism, or even anxiety. Using western biomedicine, this syndrome could be better treated than just “talking through it.”

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