10667 - Jumbie Attacks? An investigation of mass possession sickness in the village of Santa Rosa

The adolescent schoolgirls of Moruca, Guyana’s largest Amerindian Reservation, have suffered from a highly mysterious form of possession sickness since October 2008. The symptoms include abdominal pain and severe headache, followed by loss of consciousness and ‘unusual’ behavior consisting of volatile verbal and physical outbursts.

This research examines two key questions: On the first hand, what does ‘the sickness’ and the way in which it has been interpreted over its two and a half year lifecourse tell us about the rapidly shifting social fabric of Moruca? The varying interpretations of the infirmity, ranging from ancestral water spirits to mass psychogenic illness, coupled with the pluralistic approach to healing, incorporating exorcisms and morphine injections, suggest that Morucan cosmology is not clearly defined at this moment, as the community and their respective beliefs are shifting through the process of development.

The physical manifestation of the spiritual infirmity within the community’s adolescent population, on the other hand, indicates the complexities that accompany change. Thus, this research similarly explores the afflicted population’s experience of the violent, trance-induced states, seeking to answer: What does the physical manifestation of the infirmity, and the bodies in which it presents, articulate about the more abstract changes that are taking place? What makes this population especially vulnerable within this ‘community in transition’? Conclusions suggest the embodied possessions serve as the physical manifestation of social tensions that have arisen amidst the community’s ‘development’ process.

Keywords: possession sickness, development, community in transition, cosmology

Author: Scott, Rebecca (none, Ud States of Am / USA)


University of Vienna | Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43 1 4277 17575