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Anthropology and Trauma

People may suffer trauma in their personal lives, through loss of loved ones, injury, social and physical deprivation. Psychologists and psychiatrists may study and treat such distress individually. Anthropologists do as well, but as cultural phenomena interpreted through a conventional societal lens.

As an example of such culturally constructed trauma, consider the following. In Latin America, posttraumatic stress syndrome is identified as susto. Much more widely diagnosed and distributed throughout the population, anyone can suffer from susto, as a result of a strong emotion and often but not exclusively fear. Anthropologists who study susto examine the cultural context that supports and treats those who suffer from susto. Among the Kaqchikel (Maya) of Guatemala healers who specialize in curing susto are called oyonela or “callers.” When one ...

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