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86. Hysteria

Among all Tungus groups and Manchus I had a great number of occasions to observe what may be called classical forms of hysteria [489], as they are described among the Europeans. During the period of quietness a woman (I speak of women, for I observed them much oftener than men) shows no physical signs of her condition, -she is as any other woman of the group. Her behaviour does not essentially differ from that of other women. However, one can bring the woman out of her condition by various forms of inducing excitement or laying stress on the special points which constitute the complex of individual cases, e.g. sex complex, «religious» matters, personal pride, etc., lastly even by producing visual, auditory and other physical irritation. The woman may become liable to the change of her behaviour, e.g. she would become irritable, reacting too strongly on every external source of change of the situation; she would avoid looking at one directly, her eyes would be aimlessly fixed for an unusually long time at things or persons, or simply lost in the space. Such a state may gradually increase to the state when the woman would lose her usual ability of daily work. The period may be crowned by a fit associated with laughter, weeping, and later on «arch», closed eyes, localized insensitiveness, «difficulty» of breathing, physical (alleged) pain in the chest and heart, etc.; she would look for a dark place. Fits are more frequent in the evening and at night, than in day-light. They seem to be more frequent during the summer than during the cold season, in the encampments (I never observed them during travelling, but usually in conditions of relative comfort) than during migrations.

One of the characteristic features of this form of hysteria is that the women do not hurt themselves during the fits. If they should fall to the ground, the head would not be hurt and it would happen in the dark place of the wigwam (or house, among the Manchus), which is not typical of fits such as in epilepsy. A fit may occur owing to a sudden fear, as well as in the case of olonism. The fit may be gradually «prepared» by the woman, evidently through a process of self-excitement, during which she imagines herself «miserable» — to be without her clansmen or mother, not loved by her husband, haunted by the spirits, etc. Naturally during this period the normal appetite is absent, the woman is evidently depressed, but she can sleep; she would be sexually indifferent in most cases observed, but not always. I shall now give a description of a case which will be later needed for another purpose.

A Manchu woman of about thirty-six years, physically strong, of a muscular type with a moderate fat deposit, as usual; anthropologically, she was near to the type Alpha I, although some characters pointed to the type Delta; she was tall, had a moderately long rhomboid face with developed check bones, very dark eyes of moderate size with narrow brows on a receding forehead; a mouth of large or perhaps medium size with medium lips; a narrow nose of aquiline form which together with a sharp chin and the receding forehead formed a sharp profile; the skin was rather darker than usual among the Manchus; the jet-black hair was straight. She was not usually talkative, but solemn, concentrated, «intraverted», for which special social reasons existed. Married at the age of twenty to a boy of eleven or twelve years, she became the mistress of her husband's father who was a handsome man, an official and a shaman at the same time. A son was born after one year of marriage. Evidently the husband was not the father of her son, for the sexual relations between them began much later and were interrupted soon. The father-lover-shaman was executed for a «political crime» (vide Chapter XXVIII). The husband on reaching the age of sixteen years, after the discovery of his situation, deserted his wife. Several attempts were made by the wife, directly and through a special go-between, to restore marital life (sexual relations), but the husband refused referring to his wife's stupidity, saying that she was uncivilized, and that she did not appeal to his sex feelings. The woman was desperate, but as far as I could find out, owing to the peculiar conditions of the family, she had no more lovers, nor «younger brothers» (cf. SOM p. 100 et seq.) who might have been substitutes for her husband. During a year or so she suffered from fits which are typical of hysteria. If it happened in the house, she might produce an «arch» etc.; if she ran away prior to the culmination, she might be found in the near forest, sitting (cramped) on a tree or just thrust between two trees growing close together. The observation showed that the fits were correlated with the introduction of the spirit of her first lover. She wanted to get rid of this condition, but the means tried were not successful. Further details will be given later.

The cases of classical hysteria are not very frequent, i.e. only a few; perhaps one case in every Tungus group, but the cases of potential classical hysteria in which the period does not culminate in a fit, and cases which may be only suspected of being of this type, are very frequent. It is impossible to say whether we have here a real hysteria or something else which in some respects and symptomatically looks like hysteria. Indeed, in the complex of symptoms of «hysteria» some symptoms are not at all characteristic of hysteria alone. Thus when they are not numerous it is sometimes impossible to diagnose hysteria.

As an example of a complex case, which cannot be easily defined, I may refer to one related by me in SONT, pp. 268-269. The woman was subject to cycloid states of excitement and depression, in which she would be alternately very gay and cheerful, and very morose, silent and shedding tears without any reasonable cause.

The above described condition of the Manchu woman I have compared with the «classical hysteria», but the latter is not always observed alone. It may be associated with other conditions as well. It may be rarely observed that it is definitely associated with the cyclic psychoses and with the state of paranoia, when the woman is permanently affected by various fears, maniacal ideas, sometimes caused by her physiological disturbances or definitely pathological condition [490]. Such a state may be associated with restlessness, insomnia, etc. which ruins health. It would be quite erroneous to include every case of this complex type in the group of hysteria, but their separation from the «classical form of hysteria» is also not easy, especially in the conditions of field work. However, in some cases this is possible, and it ought to be done in order better to understand the nature of hysteria.

On the other hand a great number of cases which may have a certain symptomatic similarity with hysteria are not so. In fact, a great number of cases symptomatically pointing to hysteria are found in connection with the spirits' activity, especially before the election of a new shaman which will he discussed later on, so I shall now give a description of some special conditions which, not always reasonably, were taken as pure and simple hysteria; namely, the possession by spirits and incomplete sleep.

489. Since I have mentioned «classical hysteria» I deem it useful to make some reserves. After the rejection of Charcot's hysteria by his own disciples and after the introduction of new interpretations (e.g. psychoanalytical, physiological, «mental», etc.) of this condition, the tact of its existence was not dismissed. It is interesting that the number of «classical» cases bas greatly diminished in some countries (e.g. in France among the female patients), while during the great war it markedly increased among the soldiers. In Russia I have also observed a decrease of frequency of fits among the hysterical females, even an entire «recovery», after the downfall of the national government, when a great number of women had to face the hardships of civil war with all its consequences. Numerous facts may also be added gathered by the ethnographers, including myself among the Tungus populations, which definitely point to a periodicity of fits affecting very numerous persons who are quite «normal» and who afterwards «re-cover». Undoubtedly, these facts point to a process analogous to the spreading of a cultural complex which may be accepted or rejected, as well as to a formal analogy with contagious diseases. In fact, the hysterical fits are remarkably similar among quite different ethnical groups and at different historical periods, the traits of difference being those implied by the difference of cultural complexes. The part of imitation and adaptation in the spreading of hysteria is as great as in other cultural phenomena. Even in individual cases one may observe how hysteria is imitated, especially by daughters from their mothers' pattern (whence the idea of hereditary hysteria, should the hypothesis of heredity be postulated, is only natural even without presuming a physical predisposition for it) which naturally may be repeated by the descending generations. Without presuming whether individuals suffering from various physical defects (functional and organical, particularly glands of internal secretion and cerebral lesions) form an especially favourable ground or practising of hysteria leads to an disfunction of some functional systems, we may now say that any essential changes of milieu (such as anti-hysteria propaganda, military clash, economic «depression», civil wars, etc.) may influence frequency of cases. Indeed, there are some individuals who are not at all susceptible to hysteria, while others are particularly liable to it. On the other hand, the form of hysteria is liable to variations and the degree of intensity of hysteria is defined by a symptomatic analysing, the latter being an ethnographical phenomenon itself. Thus, should the symptoms change under the pressure of a new ethnographical complex, the degree would not be perceptible until new symptoms are established. Should the form change, the hysteria would not be noticed at all. Therefore, the «classical hysteria», which is well known, may disappear and instead of it a new form with new «symptoms» may appear which will not be at once noticed by the contemporaries.

490. The condition of «paranoia» finding its expression in mania persecutiva observed among very young girls at the period of puberty ad among young women giving birth to the first child, has been recently emphasized by R. D. Jameson, op. cit.

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