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October 2022

Soc Sci Med. 1988 ; 27(2): 129-48.

From vice to madness: the semantics of naturalistic and personalistic understandings in Trinidadian local medicine.

Littlewood R.

Department of Psychiatry, University College, London, England.

Whilst the common analytical distinction between 'naturalistic' and 'personalistic' paradigms of medical knowledge has some immediate heuristic value and may indeed closely resemble the explicit schema elaborated by informants, interpretation of the semantics of bush medicine and madness in Creole Trinidad suggests that the two types of knowledge are not incompatible, nor mutually exclusive, nor distinct. The vices of ganja and rum use may be interpreted within the hot-cold classification of bush medicine but, like other vices and like the more 'intrapersonal' categories of pressure, grinding, studiation and tabanka, they may be understood as leading to madness. A common idiom of opposition and catharsis unites them, providing a higher level of analytical generality manifest in a range of local social institutions, and one rooted in post-colonial Afro-Caribbean experience and ideology.

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