Since we are social animals, we laugh a lot louder when other people are laughing. However, laughter is not always a happy response; it can also be a sign of extreme distress, like crying, fainting, and shortness of breath.
Three Girls Started Laughing In a small, British-run boarding school in a remote town on the coast of Lake Victoria in Tanzania in January 1962, three girls started laughing and couldn’t stop, possibly in response to a joke. Before long, the attack of laughs spread to their schoolmates, until almost 60% of the understudies encountered an interesting assortment of side effects. The students were agitated, going from laughing uncontrollably to sobbing for a few minutes to several hours at a time. A portion of the young ladies experienced different side effects like actual torment, respiratory issues, blacking out, and rashes.
The laughing epidemic of 1962 did not appear to be caused by toxins or environmental factors, and all of the girls’ lab tests came back normal, so psychologists, doctors, and scientists were all called in.
The school administration gave up by March and asked parents to take their daughters home. However, as the girls spread out across the nation into their respective communities, their families and village residents began to laugh as well. Other schools contracted the disease. Over 18 months, hundreds of people were infected, the majority of whom were young women, though older people and men also contracted the laughing sickness. There weren’t any deaths.
What Makes sense of the Sense?
The bizarre and singular epidemic was categorized as a Mass Psychogenic Illness (MPI), also known as “mass hysteria,” by experts at the time and more recently. This may entail rapidly disseminating physical symptoms brought on by a group’s exposure to a stressful situation. Laughter is not always, or even typically, accompanied by symptoms like fainting, chest pressure, difficulty breathing, facial tics, and crying.
Also read: Tanzania: The green land of Africa
The students at the Tanzanian boarding school may have felt trapped in a strict environment run by foreigners, which may have contributed to the significant collective trauma that appeared to have occurred there. However, that would not account for the hundreds of others who experienced the same symptoms along the Lake Victoria coast.
A Social and Political Ocean Change
The most conceivable clarification for many individuals in a rustic African nation catching a mass sociogenic sickness has to do with what occurred in the country in the months paving the way to it. After being a British colony for four decades, Tanzania, at the time known as Tanganyika, gained independence at the end of 1961. Even though this sounds like a good move, it threw the nation into a culture war.
The new government was eager to implement changes as Tanzania suddenly became a socialist country. The land changed hands and local clans were disbanded. Instead of the social structures and beliefs that had existed for hundreds or even thousands of years, there was a lot of pressure almost immediately to adopt Christianity and modern government systems. Individuals were even offered cash to pick one church over another.
At once, everything about life in Tanzania changed a lot, and it’s easy to imagine how stressful that must have been for everyone.
Humans look to one another for guidance on how to act, and it’s possible that the first girls who couldn’t stop laughing, crying, screaming, and fainting had had enough, either of boarding school or of the new way things were done. When their classmates saw how hard they laughed, they thought, “I feel like that too.” Laughter was used by people all over the country to express their fear, anxiety, overwhelming stress, grief, and confusion over the next 18 months.
Experts doubt that anyone’s existential crisis was ameliorated by laughter, even though laughter can sometimes make you feel better. The laughing epidemic spread through Tanzania in waves, eventually dying out completely. It’s the only one of its sort to at any point have been recorded.