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Cult Med Psychiatry. 1989 Mar;13(1):25-50.

Illness from fright or soul loss: a North Balinese culture-bound syndrome?


The paper examines kesambet, a common cause of child mortality and adult sickness in North Bali, by placing it in the context of cultural conceptions of body, person and spirit, as well as interpersonal praxis. Emotions, virtue, and the covert intentions of others are salient preoccupations in the construction of kesambet. The analysis thus serves to question Geertz's classical account of Balinese personhood, which interprets the Balinese concern with grace and composure as aesthetically motivated. Kesambet is also analysed in comparative perspective, especially in relation to susto; and Good and Good's distinction between etiological and descriptive criteria is utilized.

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