Posted by: smangele | 2004/10/21


I have just read the article about amafufunyana- my mother is suffering from them.

Please can I have more information-who can help and if there is a support group for this we would like to be part of them.

I can also be contacted telephonically at 0823647314.

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Interesting question, of course. I have come across 'Amafufunyana' and 'ukuthwasa' when working in Natal, and there were in the past psych's at the University of Natal and think at Stellenbosch with a special interest in these conditions, but I think they've all retired or emigrated by now.
Although these and related "culture-bound" disorders ( appearing solely within a specific culture and dependent on the beliefs of that particular culture ) are quite common, I have never heard of a support group for helping with them, though this might indeed be an excellent idea. All cultures seem to have variations on such disorders. Even apparently trivial examples, like the widespread belief in white cultures, that you will come to harm if you sit "in a draft", though there's no actual evidence that this is a harmful practice.
Very occasionally such a condition may hop across a cultural border as it were. For instance, the Chinese have a condition called Koro, in which a man is seized by panic, and believes that his penis is shrinking into his body and that he will die when it retracts fully. So he may rush into hospital, with his parts clasped between a pair of chopsticks, trying to prevent them from retracting further.! I have seen a very similar case in a young white Englishman in London. But generally, the conditions remain "bound" within the boundaries of a particular culture.
Generally, purely cultural disorders are best handled by the traditional healers of that culture, both because such healers are confident in dealing with them, and because te patient is likely to have faith in them and expect to be helped by them.
I'm not sure what to make of the Stellenbosch research, which has several major weaknesses. The bigest of which is that they looked only at Xhosa patients who had later received a Western diagnosis of schizophrenia ( which they probably had ) and not any any Xhosa patient with either condition who had been successfully treated within his/her culture. So one cannot assume that patients with either condition HAVE schizophrenia. Within a culture where similar symptoms are usually described with one or other of these terms, schizophrenia may well get the same label, without being the same thing at all. And a patient developing schizophrenia within such a community could well have their symptoms both shaped and explained by the prevailing views of amafufunyana and/or ukuthwasa.
As schizophrenia most commonly has its onset in young adults, and I expect that your mother is somewhat older than that, don't think it's likely that schizophrenia is her problem, which could well be amafufunyana, or some other condition ( such as the confusion caused by a severe infection ) being called amafufunyana.
It's generally been thought to be useful for Western practitioners to seek to understand such cultural disorders and to be prepared to refer them to a traditional healer, and to offer training to traditional healers to recognize the more sinister signs of schizophrenia, and refer them for Western treatments which can be so useful in that case.
I hope your mother does well with proper traditional intervention --- let us know in fresh messages, how she's doing.

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Our users say:
Posted by: Zandile | 2014/05/18

Hi. My mom suffers from ifufunyana as well, its been 14 yrs we also need help as the family for cure. At the hospital the diagnosed her as having bipolar i wana knw is it the same thing? Email thanx

Reply to Zandile
Posted by: Smangele | 2004/10/23

Thanks for your reply; I have already taken her to Universal church with no help , but because I know how great is God- I will keep taking her to church- Thanks to everybody who has taken time to answer.

Reply to Smangele
Posted by: NTSIKIE | 2004/10/22

I also grew up in the townships, ive heard about amafufunyana, being bewitched, etc etc, but i have never met or seen a person that suffers from these conditions. I think that if you strongly believe in something, it will happen. I myself dont believe in these things.....I was even stopped by an unknown person telling me that im bewitched and am supposed to die, well im still around. If i had taken what that person said seriously and followed up on that, imagine where i would be today.....I suppose it goes according to your beleifs.....

Doc, loved your explanation about the chinese man, holding his penis in place with chopstix. hahaha

Reply to NTSIKIE
Posted by: cindy | 2004/10/22

ther's only one solution for such conditions and its God...I promise you, growing up in the township has allowed us to see all sorts of spritual (pscyhological) problems and getting healed.I support the previous write, take her to church my sister, easier and free.

Reply to cindy
Posted by: Lass | 2004/10/22

Please bring your mother to church and she will be healed! If there is a Universal church around bring the person and she will be healed! I have seen people who were sangomas being healed and they do not practise it any more!

Reply to Lass
Posted by: Sbongile | 2004/10/22


Interesting. I typed "fufuyana" in the google search engine and came up with one hit. Do the same. Here is the abstract from the research that was done by the dept. of psychiatry in Stellenbosch:

"Background: 'Amafufunyana' and 'ukuthwasa' are two culture-specific descriptive terms used by Xhosa traditional healers to explain aberrant behavioral and psychological phenomena. Some overlap between these conditions and schizophrenia (DSM-IV) is apparent. The aim of this study was to determine the extent to which amafufunyana and ukuthwasa were used as cultural explanatory models by traditional healers for DSM-IV-defined schizophrenia and whether there were significant phenomenological differences in schizophrenia symptoms in patients with the diagnosis of amafufunyana rather than ukuthwasa. Sampling and Methods: Xhosa patients with schizophrenia underwent a structured clinical diagnostic interview (Diagnostic Interview for Genetic Studies). The use of traditional diagnostic and treatment methods was assessed by structured open-ended interviewer-rated questions. The sample was then stratified for the presence/absence of a past/current diagnosis of amafufunyana and/or ukuthwasa. The clinical parameters were compared across groups by means of the 2 or Student t tests. Results: 247 adult subjects participated in the study. 106 (53%) patients reported a previous diagnosis of amafufunyana, and 9 (4.5%) reported a diagnosis of ukuthwasa. A family history of schizophrenia (p = 0.004) or any psychiatric disorder (p = 0.008) was more common in the ukuthwasa group. Subjects with a primary diagnosis other than amafufunyana or ukuthwasa were more likely to be married (p = 0.004), to have a history of stressor(s) prior to illness onset (p = 0.026), to be from a rural environment (p = 0.007) or to have a history of cannabis abuse/dependency (p = 0.015). Conclusion: The culture-bound syndrome amafufunyana and the culture-specific phenomenon of ukuthwasa are both used to explain symptoms in patients with schizophrenia (DSM-IV). Identification of cases as amafufunyana and ukuthwasa may correlate with a distinction between familial and sporadic cases of schizophrenia. Whether the positive connotations associated with ukuthwasa, as opposed to the more negative connotations associated with amafufunyana, hold any implications for the treatment or prognosis of schizophrenia remains to be clarified."

Reply to Sbongile
Posted by: Art | 2004/10/22

CS - above seems interesting from the viewpoint that a person could be suffering from a hysteria-like condition, both interpreted and cured by traditional african medicine or sangome or herbalist. Given your work here, have you ever been called upon to rely on socio-cultural teaching (anthropology?) to either diagnose or treat this condition?

Reply to Art
Posted by: Jet | 2004/10/22

Fufunyana (if I remember corrcllty from my Anthropology 101) is hysteria sufferd by a member of the Northern Sotho clan. It would appear that ancestor spirits are making the person "ill" and the "purification" ritual (fufunyana is considered to be a pollution of the soul of some sort) would allow the ancestor spirits to 'speak'.

However. My memory is faulty and it may in fact be that the person - a lekgolwa (or itshipa if pedi) - abandoned his tribal ways and is is displaced as a result - he does not fit in anywhere and is suffering a psychosis of some sort. The Eskimo people suffer similarly after being confined in their igloos for the harsh winters and the lack of contact brings this about.

Suggest you check with your 'inkulu' about possible causes and also check out some anthropology texts about this condition. The condition is real (symptoms of aggression and/or aimless wandering around) and it may be that western treatments would cure it (with great respect to the traditional healing).

Reply to Jet

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