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January 2022

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 1984 Jun; 18(2): 179-87.

Emic accounts of a mystery illness: the Groote Eylandt syndrome.

Cawte J.

The Aboriginal people of Groote Eylandt, in the Northern Territory of Australia, are suffering from an unusual disease complex having neurological, psychiatric and teratological features, which admits no ready explanation. The island people at various times blame it on the spirits, or accuse enemies, or take some responsibility upon themselves. In this paper, 'emic' accounts of the illness (those current among the members of the society) are described in order to compare them with 'etic' accounts of those who study the society from the outside. Since emic views regulate people's behaviours toward illness, it is suggested these views should complement and inform etic views of researchers and therapists. This principle might apply to all mysterious or poorly understood illness.

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