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Soc Sci Med. 2001 May;52(9):1403-16.

Malevolent ogbanje: recurrent reincarnation or sickle cell disease?

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  • 1Psychology Doctoral Program, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco 94103, USA.


The Igbo of Nigeria believe that everyone is ogbanje (reincarnates) but malevolent ogbanje differ from others in being revenge-driven, chronically ill and engaging in repeated cycles of birth, death and reincarnation. This study examined culturally defined symptoms of 100 children classified as malevolent ogbanje; and investigated their family history and child mortality experience. There was concordance between cultural descriptions of malevolent ogbanje and symptoms as manifested in sickle cell patients. Hemoglobin analysis showed that 70 of the 100 children had sickle cell disease (SCD); while 68 families had death-related names. The symptoms associated with Igbo cases of reincarnation, high child mortality rates, and the high prevalence of sickle cell disease among children classified as malevolent ogbanje all support the conclusion that the symptomatology and early mortality experience are related to sickle cell. Names with themes of death were prevalent in families of children described as malevolent ogbanje. The findings are discussed with reference to cultural resistance to SCD as an explanation for malevolent ogbanje and the implications for the health care of children with SCD in Nigeria.

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