Kiyang-Yang, a West-African Postwar Idiom of Distress
de Jong, Joop T.V.M.
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Citationde Jong, Joop T., Ria Reis. "Kiyang-yang, a West-African Postwar Idiom of Distress" Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 34(2): 301-321. (2010)
In 1984, a healing cult for young barren women in southern Guinea Bissau developed into a movement, Kiyang-yang, that shook society to its foundations and had national repercussions. "Idiom of distress" is used here as a heuristic tool to understand how Kiyang-yang was able to link war and post-war-related traumatic stress and suffering on both individual and group levels. An individual experience born from a traumatic origin may be generalized into an idiom that diverse sectors of society could embrace for a range of related reasons. We argue that, for an idiom to be understood and appropriated by others, there has to be resonance at the level of symbolic language and shared experiences as well as at the level of the culturally mediated contingent emotions it communicates. We also argue that through its symbolic references to structural causes of suffering, an idiom of distress entails a danger for those in power. It can continue to exist only if its etiology is not exposed or the social suffering it articulates is not eliminated. We finally argue that idioms of distress are not to be understood as discrete diagnostic categories or as monodimensional expressions of "trauma" that can be addressed.