Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 209-231

First online:

LATAH: The symbolism of a putative mental disorder

  • Michael G. KennyAffiliated withSimon Fraser University

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This paper examines the symbolic properties and cultural relevance of latah, a behavioral state noted in Malaya and Indonesia since the 19th Century. Most interpretations of latah have been psychological, latah being perceived as a ‘mental disorder.’ In the following, it is concluded that latat is intimately related to other aspects of Malayo-Indonesian culture and that it is a well-known cultural pattern and not a mental disorder as such, though it may occur among persons, largely women, in a socially and psychologically marginal situation. Latah is a symbolic representation of marginality, and it is as appropriate to certain mythological and religious figures as to the socially marginal.