Deviance



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[...] the Eskimos have a word, kunlangeta, which means “his mind knows what to do but he does not do it.” This is an abstract term for the breaking of many rules when awareness of the rules is not in question.

It might be applied to a man who, for example, repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and does not go hunting and, when the other men are out of the village, takes sexual advantage of many women - someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment. One Eskimo among the 499 on their island was called kunlangeta.

When asked what would have happened to such a person traditionally, an Eskimo said that probably “somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking”.

The Yorubas have a similarly abstract word, arankan, which means a person who always goes his own way regardless of others, who is uncooperative, full of malice, and bullheaded.

There are parallels between kunlangeta and arankan and our concept “psychopath” - someone who consistently violates the norms of society in multiple ways. Also some of the specific acts of wrongdoing which Eskimos and Yorubas recognise might in our society be called evidence of “personality disorders.” In Western psychiatry, this term refers to sexual deviations, excessive use of drugs or alcohol, and a variety of behaviours that primarily cause trouble for other people rather than for the doer.

It is of considerable interest that kunlangeta and arankan are not behaviours that the shamans and healers are believed to be able to cure or change. As a matter of fact, when I pressed this point with the Yoruba healers they specifically denied that these patterns are illness.

[Jane M. Murphy]
'Psychiatric Labeling in Cross-Cultural Perspective', Science, Vol 191, p. 1026


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