Dentan, Robert Knox. 1968. “Semai Response to Mental Aberration.” Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, vol. 124, no. 1, pp. 135-158.

The Semai of Peninsular Malaysia experience a wide variety of mental aberrations, such as echolalia, stuttering, mental retardation, disorientation, “soul loss,” depression, seizures, berserk behavior, and aberrant sexual behavior. During 14 months of living in two different Semai villages, Dentan personally observed all of those aberrant behaviors except for people going berserk. He describes the illnesses, the views the Semai have of them, and their explanations for their causes. In general, treatments for these illnesses include the use of spells, many of which are in the Malay language, and village healing rituals called sings. During a sing, some people go into trances so spirits may come to help with the diagnosis and treatment of the disorder. The article compares Semai approaches to mental aberrations in light of three major published schemes that analyze these problems.

We appreciate the permission to copy this article for the Peaceful Societies Website granted by both Prof. Dentan and by the Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Leiden, The Netherlands. The article, in PDF format, is 78 KB in size.

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