Running Amok in Malay Culture

Running amok is a culture-bound syndrome of Malaysian/Indonesian origin. Psychotic illnesses, personality disorders, and mood disorders are all possible causes of amok as cited from Dr. Manuel L. Saint Martin’s analysis of the CBS in “Running Amok: A Modern Perspective on a Culture-Bound Syndrome. “Running amok” is a commonly used term to describe someone acting in an irrational way. Outside of the psychiatric world, running amok is not known as a psychiatric condition. Running amok is derived from the Malay work mengamok, which means to make a furious and desperate charge. From the study, “According to Malay mythology, running amok was an involuntary behavior caused by the “hantu belian,” or evil tiger spirit entering a person’s body and compelling him or her to behave violently without conscious awareness.” Thus, Malay tribesmen tolerated running amok, even though many of these episodes resulted in many fatalities, human and animal, by the “possessed” individual. While this CBS was observed in tribal locations in the Philippines, Laos, Papau New Guinea, and Puerto Rico, running amok has presented itself in cases all around the world as a psychiatric disorder. Yet, like in Malaysia, the tribal populations tolerated running amok. Running amok was first classified a psychiatric condition around 1849 in the basis of most of these individuals were considered mentally ill. Early reports stated running amok itself was not a condition, but a result of some other sort of psychosis. Dr. Saint Martin states that “From a modern perspective, amok should not be considered a culture-bound syndrome, because the only role that culture plays is in how the violent behavior is manifested.” Today, running amok is viewed as an individual’s undiagnosed psychiatric state instead of their possession of some sort of spirit or demon. It is important to view this culture-bound syndrome as a result of some sort of mental illness to help these individuals and stop their violent attacks from harming other innocent individuals.

 

Saint Martin, Manueal L. MD, JD. “Running Amok: A Modern Perspective on a Culture-Bound Syndrome.” Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 1 (1999): 66-70. Accessed July 18, 2014. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181064/

 

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