Teenage Female Hysteria and The Tivs’ Traditional Beliefs


Hysteria is a behaviour exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excess which could be anger, joy etc.

It is more of a psychological disorder. The word ‘hysteria’ has its origin from the Greek word ‘hysterikos‘, from hysteria womb, a notion that hysteria was peculiar to women and caused by disturbances of the uterus. It is generally believed that hysteria no longer exist.

Female hysteria was a once-common medical diagnosis, made exclusive in women, which is today no longer recognized by medical authorities as a medical disorder. Women considered to have it exhibited a wide array of symptoms including, faintness, nervousness, shortness of breath, and a “tendency to cause trouble”. Female hysteria which is believed to be a thing of the past in the 20th century has been found among the Tiv girls.

Tiv girls while suffering from hysteria start the ‘display’ when angry, very happy, shouted at, beaten or heard a whistling sound; by crossing of the hands and legs, a loud shout and if not held down at that moment, they can run a 36,000km race. At this point, they are out of control and very agile, in which six hefty men can find it difficult to carry a single girl.

Also, they can attack whoever that is within their environment at that time. It has been observed overtime that while under the influence of hysteria, they don’t like seeing red and white colors, and if they do, they would attack the person wearing such color. While going through this, there is nothing anyone can do to stop them; they can only be prevented from running and attacking someone.

They can experience this at any point in time, regardless of where they are or what they are doing; the commonest is during school hours. Those lucky to be in school while displaying would be taken to the chapel, and as a result they are relieved a bit. After they might have been relieved, they feel bad and start crying after realizing all the damage they might have caused.

The main cause of this among the TIV girls alone has been a major concern. This ailment is said to be as a result of attack from the girls paternal relations; those who envy the girl or the family. If this is actually true, why is it that the girls are the only one affected with this? Why are the boys not inclusive? Meanwhile, the girls are not even given ANY form of inheritance when the father dies, the boys get everything. If this should be the case, the focus of any attack should be to the boys. Speaking, a Tiv man, Martins Mbachie said “this illness is caused by the girl’s ‘ paternal relatives that envy the progress of the girl or her father and in some cases, it could be that it is the law of karma that has caught up with the girl through what her father might have done in the past”.

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Another fraction of respondents said that the ailment is caused by “azuor” (Tiv word) which have been casted into money, food or any item given to a lady who has refused a man’s proposal. It is believed that a lady should not collect anything from a man she has already rejected. The above views stated as the cause of hysteria was corroborated by a traditional healer, Dula Aaondugu. He added that in the cases he has treated, he usually check the cause and thereafter know the herbal medicine to use. “I will put water inside a pot, tell the girl to come and check the cause, though I have to rub something on her face so she can see it. After that, she will be the one to prescribe the medicine I will use for her. After using it, she is totally free from this sickness. ”

Medically, it is believed that hysteria is no longer a recognized illness, rather it is being recognized in other conditions such as anxiety attack, borderline personalty disorder, conversion disorder. Speaking on this, a Registrar in Family Medicine at the Federal Medical Centre, Apir, Dr Philip Udzer said it has not being affirmed if the behavioral disorder among the Tiv girls is a psychological, neurological or psychiatric issue.

He added that that it can not be a mental issue because mental disorders are not contagious just as other girls with hysteria are prone to start displaying immediately they hear the whistling sound or scream of a victim. Dr Udzer said though the classification of the ailment is difficult, it is agreed to be a medical issue because a good number of girls treated at the FMC do respond to treatment given to them, though they might suffer the attack later.

Attesting to the fact that it is a spiritual problem, the Priest-in-charge of St. Mark Catholic Mission, Revd. Fr. Amos Embarga Mbachie said it is a spiritual attack which needs to be tackled spiritually. Fr. Amos noted that if the victims are prayed for and given holy water to drink, it will cease for the time being. “It is an ongoing challenge that we are working on, we keep praying to God and studying the whole situation to see how we can put a final stop to this. It is a spiritual, cultural, regional and tribal thing, so it’s difficult to get it right easily.”

With the complications evolving around this ailment, a call has been made to medical experts and researchers to find a medical cure for this and to confirm if this is peculiar to the Tivs’ girls alone as it is believed or there is any other part of the world that still suffer from hysteria.



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