Urban Forum

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 111–123 | Cite as

Cultural Causations and Expressions of Distress: a Case Study of Buufis Amongst Somalis in Johannesburg

  • Zaheera JINNAHEmail author


Buufis is a well-known concept amongst Somalis at home and in the diaspora, although its meaning shifts across time and space. Literally meaning ‘to blow, or inflate’ in Somali, buufis initially referred to the dream of resettlement amongst Somalis in refugee camps in Kenya in the early 1990s, spreading to refugee camps across Africa through transnational networks and mobility, and later used by scholars to describe a form of mental illness that ensued when this dream of resettlement was not realised. In this paper, I examine the use of buufis amongst Somalis in Johannesburg, South Africa to describe multiple forms of distress. By exploring the narratives of a group of Somali refugees and asylum seekers, I show how a range of social, economic and political factors intersect to create triggers of distress. These are identified and articulated by the respondents as a state of buufis associated with feelings of distress, unhappiness and a desire to escape their current situation in the city. I argue that buufis is part of an invented language used and adopted to give meaning to cultural expressions of distress by self-settled Somali refugees and asylum seekers in Johannesburg. Underlying this argument is a call for a broader understanding of mental health perceptions, outcomes and responses that moves beyond biomedical perspectives in order to better understand and respond to some of the experiences raised here.


Buufis Distress Forced migration Johannesburg Somalis 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.African Centre for Migration and SocietyUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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