Mohave Ethnopsychiatry and Suicide: The Psychiatric Knowledge and the Psychic Disturbances of An Indian Tribe

By George Devereux | Go to book overview
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PART 6. PSYCHIATRIC DISORDERS OF CHILDHOOD

CHILD PSYCHIATRY

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

The Mohave differentiate between presumably "organic" (i.e., genetic or constitutional) defects, caused by certain inappropriate acts of the parents, and "functional" psychiatric disorders affecting children.

The former category includes mental defect, conditions which may be due to defects of the nervous system, "snake-headed monsters," and speech defects, each of which is discussed separately in the following pages. (See also pt. 5, pp. 248-253.)

The latter category includes the relatively transitory "acting out" period of budding shamans and nonshamanistic "problem children." These disorders are discussed on pages 260-285.

The susceptibility of children to traumata and their tendency to become depressed is an axiom of Mohave psychiatry. Future shamans seek to kill themselves while being born (pt. 7, pp. 331-339), infants who have to be weaned because their mothers are pregnant again make themselves sick (pt. 7, pp. 340-347), sucklings whose mothers also nurse a young orphaned relative contract the hi:wa hira:uk illness (pt. 3, p. 115), young twins may decide to return to heaven (pt. 7, pp. 348-356), and so forth. Yet, interestingly enough, actual child suicide cases are completely unknown, presumably because the Mohave child is loved and feels fairly secure.86


"ORGANIC" CONDITIONS

According to the Mohave, all congenital or constitutional defects of children are due to certain actions of the parents, such as "incestuous" marriage, fellatio performed by a pregnant woman, the killing of a snake during pregnancy, etc. ( Devereux, 1948 b). Despite the fact that the condition of defective children is living proof of the misconduct of the parents, the Mohave do not destroy such children; instead, they make considerable efforts to keep them alive, even though, e.g., the breast feeding of snakeheaded (heredosyphilitic?) monsters

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86
This good treatment is not wholly due to the belief that ill-treated children can make themselves die. The Sedang Moi ( Devereux, MS., 1933-34) have the same belief, which does not prevent them from being quite harsh with their children. Hence, the suicide of the young is sufficiently common among the Sedang to have led to the inclusion into Sedang law of the provision that an adult oppressor whose acts drive a helpless young person to suicide can be fined.

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