Apparently, “running amok” is not just a phrase in the English language, it is also, in a most curious coincidence, a type of condition that causes people to behave in a frenzied way, often resulting in indiscriminate killings.
From there, it only gets stranger.
According to the National Center of Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a series of databases relevant to biotechnology and biomedicine, the case of “running amok” was once believed to be a “rare culture-bound syndrome.” This means that the syndrome affected only a certain portion of the populace.
Medically, a person afflicted by this syndrome is described as an “irrational-acting individual who causes havoc.” Even for all the frenzy it causes, the NCBI states that it is a condition that not many people know about, despite the fact that it is a very true affliction.
|Riot police in Algeria / Photo by: Ralf Roletschek via Wikimedia Commons|
For years, it was believed to have originated in Asia when Malay tribesmen acted out in 1770 under unexplained circumstances. Its antiquated nature matched its equally antiquated reason for happening, which, back then, made sense to the people. Before it became a known psychological condition, ancient Malays would say that it happens when one is possessed by an “evil tiger spirit entering a person’s body and compelling him or her to behave violently without conscious awareness.”
The researchers then found a link to these cases in many neighboring countries in Asia, as Captain Cook, the man credited for making the first outside observation, observed the same behavior in tribes around the Philippines, Laos, Papua New Guinea, and Puerto Rico.
|A tribe in Papua New Guinea / Photo by: Jialiang Gao via Wikimedia Commons|
During the colonial era, these incidents died down, although the inherent violence that people came to have soon became more linked to the industrialization brought about by other civilizations in this part of the world.
It is still regarded as a possibility, what with certain manifestations of violence even in the modern age remaining unexplained. The difference is that people today still try to explain them. Usually, these episodes are more likely to be committed by people who have a history of mental illness, as modern studies suggest that sufferers of the past may have struggled with paranoid disorders, or intense depression brought on by the loss of a relative perhaps, which could explain why many tribes experienced such an illness, as they were constantly embroiled in the feudal system of things.
Eventually, the belief that the running amok syndrome is culture-bound dwindled as similar cases were observed in other parts of the world, and not just in countries in Asia.
|Colonial era war / Photo by: Ole Feldbæk via Wikimedia Commons|