martes, febrero 03, 2009

Weller et al. (2002) Regional Variation in Latino Descriptions of Susto

Susan Weller et al. 2002. Regional Variation in Latino Descriptions of Susto. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 26:449-472.

In the literature Susto is considered to be cause by a frightening event (specific in time) involving another person, an animal, a spirit, or a situation. It can cause either a displace of “an immaterial substance, an essence” (Rubel et al. 1984: 8, cited in Weller et al. 2002: 449) from the “body” that would cause the “victim” to become ill, but in other cases (which they don’t consider so much) susto can be caused not by a subtraction of vital force but by addition of vital force, in this case by an introduction of a spirit into the body (something very frequent in shamanic societies in which the shaman has to make certain rituals to expel the intruder). In the literature it was also common to find susto associated with a higher risk of anemia and parasitic infections, and overall a higher mortality rate. The key point when considering the “frightening event” is that it has a negative effect in interpersonal relationships. Stop here. A brief note: can we be very sure that the event that causes susto has an effect in interpersonal relationship? Could it not be also a cause in itself? In the classic anthropological literature in the Chaco region, for instance with Toba people, in many cases the (negative) interpersonal relationships were the cause of conflicts, that would eventually lead to people making harm one another via shamans and so loosing one of their many souls, and therefore causing susto. So here the effect is susto and the cause is the change in social relationships not the other way around.

But Weller et al do not consider this. They cite Logan (1979) who refers to competency for resources as a cause for sorcery, and the need for a healer to cure this “supernatural” causes of frightening, but then during their own research they give less weight in their analysis. They consider more the situation in which the “essence” is lost, and there is a subtraction of vital force. Their focus is more on “community descriptions of susto”. And they center their research in three “communities”, one in Guatemala, another in Mexico (although Guadalajara is not precisely a small community, it’s a 3M city), and the last in a small town in Texas, US. They develop a 127-question questionnaire. Another brief note: Why so many question? Who would answer them? The interesting thing about their inclusion criteria is that people have to know and believe in the existence of susto. In the US they chose people self-identified as having Mexican descent, and I wonder why? Non-Mexican people cannot have susto?
In only one point the researchers mentioned non-traditional, they put it as “more contemporary”, causes such as use of drugs in Mexico. But besides this there is still a big divide between “culture-bounded” syndrome such as susto, and “more contemporary” types of illness, it seems that susto is seen as a traditional believe that people somatized but it is not actually “true”. I wonder which would be the difference in approaching and understanding susto if researchers would actually know, believe, perceive, and experience it?

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