A FEW weeks ago, news broke of a peculiar incident in the village of Chimata in the heart of Siavonga.
According to reports, 15 pupils, particularly young girls began to ran around the village hysterically calling out to invisible people completely out of the blues; stopping only after evacuation to Siavonga District Hospital where they were admitted and discharged the following day after treatment.
This seemingly mysterious occurance sent waves of speculation around the village and in the media; raising suspicion of witchcraft and other forms of foul play.
Though undoubtedly peculiar, this was neither the first nor the only case of its kind.
A closer look into the annals of history will reveal that cases of mass hysteria have long been associated with humanity, arguably since the dawn of time. Much like the infamous Salem Witch trials in America, many more cases have been highlighted around the world with a number of these much closer to home than expected.
Mass hysteria has been described as a condition in which a large group of people exhibit similar physical or emotional symptoms, such as anxiety or extreme excitement.
It is also called “epidemic hysteria,” incidents of which have been recorded as far back as the Middle Ages.
So what causes mass hysteria and why does it seem to affect women much more than men? Is it a biological glitch that coincidentally strikes more than one person at the same time? Or is it a more mental condition, with sinister roots behind it?
According to an article by Alison Takeda for Mental Health:
“In many cases, hysteria is triggered by an environmental incident – such as contamination of the water supply – that causes people to literally worry themselves sick over getting sick, even though they’re otherwise perfectly healthy.
In other cases, people who witness individuals around them falling ill unwittingly trick their own bodies into manifesting the same symptoms.
And in still other cases, social or emotional pressures simply become too much for a community to handle, leading to widespread anxiety in the form of neurological problems such as blindness or numbness.”
An article by Demobly Kokota for the Malawi Medical Journal gives the following accounts:
Zambia (Mwinilinga hysteria)
Researches Dhadphale and Shaikh investigated what was reported to the local press as “mysterious madness” in Mwinilunga, at a Zambian school.
The condition was actually an outbreak of epidemic hysteria which was triggered off by a group of girls who were having educational and emotional problems prior to the epidemic.
A change in the administrative policy of rigidly segregating the sexes apparently prepared an emotionally charged background for the rapid spread of the illness.
In 1994, 62 school children all reported seeing an alien craft land and extraterrestrial creatures emerge. Virtually every single one of the 62 children iterated the exact same story with same details and none of them had gone against his/her story.
Many dismissed the 1994 incident as mass hysteria affecting the children. But when the children were found to not have much prior knowledge to UFOS or popular UFO perceptions, many other people believed that what the children witnessed could have been real. The children were asked to draw what they have encountered the day prior.
In 2009, a suspected case of mass hysteria struck Nemanwa Primary School in Charumbira communal lands in Masvingo, Zimbabwe, where pupils were reportedly screaming wildly and complaining of visions of strange snake-like creatures and lions. Parents called for the temporary closure of the Reformed Church in Zimbabwe-run institution, and some of them withdrew their children.
Teachers said on average, six pupils were affected every day. Some of the pupils would collapse, scream or tell of visions of snakes, lions, hyenas and crocodile while others would behave as if they were in a trance.
The development forced the authorities to dispatch pastors to conduct prayer sessions at the school. The Reverend called confirmed the wave of hysteria at Nemanwa and blamed it on “evil spirits and demons.” He then assured everyone that the situation had reverted to normal.
Another case of prominent incident of mass hysteria is the Tanzanian hysteria of 1962 as reported by Face to Face Africa:
“Before Tanganyika joined forces with Zanzibar to become Tanzania, an incident that took place in one of the towns called Bukoba had people wondering what was happening.
Three students at a German school in a town called Kashasha, started laughing hysterically in one of the morning classes. Historians indicate the date was January 30.
The teacher, who panicked at the situation, rang the bell and assembled all the girls in the school. She was hoping to calm down the students, but instead, the situation had the opposite effect. Other girls joined the first two in laughter uncontrollably…and soon after, 95 students in the school were affected.”
“The school eventually closed down in March, after teachers, who were not affected by the laughing epidemic were unable to work under the circumstances.
It turned out to be the wrong move. The laughing problem spread to the villages, affecting at least 1, 000 people, including students from 14 other schools.
When asked how they were feeling, the patients said that they were scared and felt like “someone was chasing them.” They did not provide any additional information
Whether these are the result of a rogue and wandering mind or the manifestations of a solid and authentic condition remains to be ascertained as for now they remain a prevailing mystery and will puzzle the world for many more years to come
*The author is a journalist, writer and student pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication and Public Relations. For comments, suggestions and contributions email firstname.lastname@example.org