The 1962 Laughing Epidemic in Tanganyika – All You Need To Know

Laughing Epidemic Tanganyika

In 1962, an unusual event unfolded in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), which has since been dubbed the “Laughing Epidemic“. This event, characterized by uncontrollable laughter, affected over 1000 people and led to the temporary closure of 14 schools.

The epidemic began on January 30, 1962, at a mission-run boarding school for girls in Kashasha. It started with three girls and spread throughout the school, affecting 95 of the 159 pupils, aged 12–18. Symptoms lasted from a few hours to 16 days, averaging around 7 days. The school was forced to close on March 18, 1962.

The epidemic didn’t stop at the school gates. It spread to Nshamba, a village 55 miles west of Bukoba, where several of the girls lived. In April and May 1962, 217 mostly young villagers had laughing attacks over the course of 34 days. The epidemic also spread to Ramashenye girls’ middle school, affecting 48 girls.

Symptoms of the Tanganyika ‘laughter epidemic’ included laughter and crying, beside general restlessness and pain, as well as fainting, respiratory problems, and rashes. The stress and anxiety that provokes mass hysteria outbreaks are reactions to perceived threats, cultural transitions, instances of uncertainty, and social stressors.

Due to the majority of the population affected by this epidemic being young and adolescent children, the outbreak has been attributed to the young not having the appropriate coping skills to manage such stresses and anxieties.

Wrapping Up

The Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962 is a fascinating case of mass psychogenic illness, demonstrating how psychological phenomena can manifest in large groups. While the laughter eventually subsided, the event left a lasting impression, reminding us of the complex interplay between psychology, society, and health.

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