Accepted paper:

Born to be Mad: ethnographic account of Yoruba traditional diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in Abeokuta, Nigeria


Timothy O. Alabi (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

The study explores Yoruba healers' mental healthcare. Ethnographic fieldwork shows that: Mental illness (MI)could be internal/external to the victim; having MI by default is possible;and treatment could be tangible or intangible. I conclude that MI and/or treatment is beyond victim's bodily symptoms

Paper long abstract:

Understanding different cultural stances on aetiology, diagnosis and preferred therapies for mental illness is germane to global mental health augmentation. This study explores Yoruba understanding of vectors and 'agents' of mental illness form the traditional healers' perspectives. My ethnographic fieldwork draws from popular and prominent traditional psychiatrist with years of practice in Abeokuta, southwest, Nigeria. Data reveal an array of 'predispositions' and approaches to mental illness and mental healthcare respectively. Among these is the concept of abisinwin (born to be mad) which indicates the possibility of having mental illness by default based on 'blood fusion' or born of a conception at a certain time in the Yoruba cosmic calendar. Other predispositions include natural factors such as accident and substance abuse, and preternatural factors such as curse and bewitchment. The vectors could be one or combination of the following: air, image, name, used materials, and dreams. The treatment can be internal or external to the victim through two major approaches: tangible and intangible. The tangible approach involves use of 'medication' while intangible could be either instructive or etutu. Each approach has different compositions and modes of usage but may be combined during treatment. Also, the recovery of an individual is not regarded as a proof of cure but an assurance that all relatives including the unborn generation are believed to be 'immune' against mental illness. This paper therefore concludes that mental illness exists beyond bodily symptoms and individual body among the Yoruba speaking people especially in the study location.

panel B17
Problematising 'social interventions' in global mental health: what can ethnography offer?