Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 29, Issue 1, pp 33–52 | Cite as

Accusations of Genital Theft: A Case from Northern Ghana

  • Charles Mather


Occurrences of panic attacks associated with belief in genital retraction have been described in the anthropological and psychological literature in terms of culture bound reactive syndromes. Similar phenomena occur widely in West Africa, where they are reported as cases of penis snatching. Explanations for these phenomena range from the biomedical emphasis on pathology to the social psychological emphasis on altered perceptual sets. This paper provides a narrative of an accusation of genital theft in a rural West African settlement. Drawing from ethnographic information, it will be argued that the case is best explained in light of social relations, definitions for in-groups and out-groups, and local knowledge concerning witchcraft and divination. Local explanations for the case conform to both biomedical and social psychological models.


culture-bound syndrome genital retraction syndrome koro Kusasi West Africa 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Awedoba, A.K. 1989a Notes on Matrimonial Goods Among the Atoende Kusasi, Part 1. Research Review 5(1): 37–53.Google Scholar
  2. 1989b Matrimonial Goods Among the Atoende Kusasi Contingent Prestations, Part 2. Research Review 5(2): 1–17.Google Scholar
  3. 1990 Matrimonial Goods Among the Atoende Kusasi: Matrimonial Prestations and Exploitation, Part 3. Research Review 6(1): 49–56.Google Scholar
  4. BBC News 2001 Ethnic Clashes in Northern Ghana. Electronic document,, accessed February 10, 2003.
  5. Bartholomew R.E.1994 The Social Psychology of ‘Epidemic’ Koro. International Journal of Social Psychiatry 40(1): 46–60.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. 2000 Exotic Deviance. Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Press.Google Scholar
  7. Bernstein, R.L., and A.C. Gaw 1990 Koro: Proposed Classification for DSM-IV. American Journal of Psychiatry 147: 1670–1674.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Caballero J.M., Avila, A., Cardona, X., Sastre, F., Maho, P., and J. Bello 2000 Genital Pain Without Urogenital Pathology: The Koro-Like Syndrome. Journal of Urology 163(1): 243.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Cheng, S.T.1996 A Critical Review of Chinese Koro. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 20(1): 67–82.Google Scholar
  10. Chowdhury, A.N.1996 The Definition and Classification of Koro. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 20(1): 41–65.Google Scholar
  11. Chowdhury, A.N., and N.K. Bera 1994 Koro Following Cannabis Smoking: Two Case Reports. Addiction 89(8): 1017–1020.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. CNN 1997 7 Killed in Ghana Over ‘Penis-Snatching’ Episodes. Electronic document,, accessed January 24 2003.
  13. Dan-Ali, M.2001 “Missing” Penis Sparks Mob Lynching. Electronic document,, accessed May 7, 2002.
  14. Dantendorfer, K., Amering, M., Prayer, D., Maierhofer, D., Schnider, P., and H. Katschnig 1996 Treatment of Koro and Panic Attacks After Stroke. Anxiety. 2(1): 53-55.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Dow, T.W., and D.A. Silver 1973 Drug-Induced Koro Syndrome. Journal of Florida Medical Association 60: 32.Google Scholar
  16. Edwards, J.G.1985 The Koro Pattern of Depersonalization in an American Schizophrenic Patient. In The Culture Bound Syndromes. R.C. Simons and C.C. Hughes, eds., pp. 165–168. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
  17. Edwards, J.W.1984 Indigenous Koro, a Genital Retraction Syndrome of Insular Southeast Asia: A Critical Review. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 8: 1–24.Google Scholar
  18. Estcourt, C.S., and B.T. Goh 1998 Koro Presenting to Genitourinary Medicine Services. International Journal of STD and AIDS 9(3): 175–176.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Fortes, M. 1945 The Dynamics of Clanship Among the Tallensi. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. 1949 The Web of Kinship Among the Tallensi. London: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Geller, A.1997 Witch Doctors Torched After Men See Penises Shrink. New York Post, March 8: 12.Google Scholar
  22. Goody, J. 1962 Death, Property and the Ancestors. A Study of the Mortuary Customs of the Lodagaa of West Africa. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Gwee, A.L.1968 Koro—Its Origin and Nature as a Disease Entity. Singapore Medical Journal 9: 3–6.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Hallowell, A.I.1941 The Social Function of Anxiety in a Primitive Society. American Sociological Review VII: 869–881.Google Scholar
  25. Hilton, T.E.1962 Notes on the History of Kusasi. Transactions of the Historical Society of Ghana 6: 79–96.Google Scholar
  26. Ifabumuyi, O.I., and G.G.C. Rwegellera 1985 Koro in a Nigerian Male Patient. In The Culture Bound Syndromes. R.C. Simons and C.C. Hughes, eds., pp. 361–363. Dordrecht: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
  27. Ilechukwu, S.T.C.1992 Magical Penis Loss in Nigeria: Report of a Recent Epidemic of a Koro-Like Syndrome. Transcultural Psychiatric Research Review 29: 91–108.Google Scholar
  28. Jackson, M. 1998 Minima Ethnographica: Intersubjectivity and the Anthropological Project. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  29. Kamara, F.2002 Blindman Escapes Mob Justice for Alleged Penis Snatching. The Daily Observer (Banjul), April 30.Google Scholar
  30. Kim J., Kim, M., Lee, N., and Y. Park 2000 A Case of Urethrocutaneous Fistula with the Koro Syndrome. Journal of Urology 164(1): 123.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Kroger, F.1982 Ancestor Worship Among the Bulsa of Northern Ghana: Religious, Social and Economic Aspects. Munich: Klaus Renner Verlag.Google Scholar
  32. Lapierre, Y.D.1972 Koro in a French Canadian. Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal 17: 333.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Legally-Cole, M.2002 Gambia: Reports of “Penis Snatching” on the Increase. Electronic document,, accessed February 11, 2003.
  34. Mather, C.1999 An Ethnoarchaeology of Kusasi Shrines, Upper East Region, Ghana. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, Department of Archaeology, University of Calgary.Google Scholar
  35. 2000 Kusasi Ancestor Shrines as Historical and Social Maps. Proceedings of The Entangled Past: The 1997 Chacmool Conference. University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada, pp. 136–143.Google Scholar
  36. 2003 Shrines and the Domestication of Landscape. Journal of Anthropological Research 59(1): 23–45.Google Scholar
  37. Naden, T. 1988 The Gur Languages. In The Languages of Ghana. M.E. Kropp Dakubu, ed., pp.12–49. Occasional Publications no.2, International African Institute. London: Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  38. 1996 Ancestor Non-Worship in Mampruli. Lexikos 6: 71–103.Google Scholar
  39. Phelan, D., and R.J. Daly 1996 Koro-Like Syndrome Associated with Brief Reactive Psychosis in an Irish Male. Irish Medical Journal 89(2): 75–76.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Rattray, R.S.1932 Tribes of the Ashanti Hinterland: Vols. I and II. Oxford: The Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  41. Rosca-Rebaudengo, P., Durst, R., and S. Minuchin-Itzigsohn 1996 Transculturation, Psychosis and Koro Symptoms. Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Sciences 33(1): 54–62.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Syme, J.G.G.1932 The Kusasis. A Short History. Mimeo.Google Scholar
  43. Tseng, W.S., Mo, K.M., Li, L.S., Chen, G.Q., Ou, L.W., and H.B. Zheng 1992 Koro Epidemics in Guangdong, China. A Questionnaire Survey. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 180(2): 117–123.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. Wen, J.K.1998 Folk Belief, Illness Behavior and Mental Health in Taiwan. Chang-Keng i Hsueh Tsa Chih 21(1): 1–12.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Yap, P.M.1977 Koro—A Culture-Bound Depersonalization Syndrome. In Culture, Disease, and Healing. D. Landy, ed., pp. 340–349. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, Inc. 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

Personalised recommendations