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Cult Med Psychiatry. 1997 Mar; 21(1): 89-114.

Illness and morality in the Mombasa Swahili community: a metaphorical model in an Islamic culture.

Swartz MJ.

Department of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093-0101, USA.

The Swahili of Mombasa are Muslims, part of an ethnic group whose forebears founded East Africa's pre-colonial cities. Their cosmopolitan culture, in common with the cultures of some other, mainly Muslim, groups elsewhere includes a system of beliefs concerning the body's functioning and illness as the result of relations among the body's four humours. The Swahili version of this system and its use in curing is described and briefly compared to several others. Despite the availability of a variety of other systems, including the biomedical employed in the much patronized cost free treatment at government hospitals, the humoural system of beliefs is almost universally held. An hypothesis seeking to explain this suggests that because the Swahili schema is conceptualized by what Lakoff calls a "metaphorical model" emphasizing balance which is also used to conceptualize the values applying to key social relationships, the two schemata support one another, presumably by making the knowledge and emotions applying to one available in the other.


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