Why we laugh

"On Jan. 30, 1962, three schoolgirls started giggling in a boarding school classroom in the northeastern corner of what is now Tanzania—and touched off a very strange epidemic. The three couldn’t stop laughing—and soon the uncontrollable cackles spread to their classmates. The laughing attacks lasted from a few minutes up to a few hours; one poor girl reportedly experienced symptoms for 16 straight days. Victims couldn’t focus on their schoolwork, and would lash out if others tried to restrain them.

When 95 of the school’s 159 pupils had come down with what came to be known as omuneepo, the Swahili word for laughing disease, the school shut down. The students returned to their villages, taking omuneepo with them. The affliction spread from person to person, school to school, village to village. “The education of the children is being seriously interfered with and there is considerable fear among the village communities,” noted local medical officers in a 1963 report in the Central African Journal of Medicine. They could find no explanation for the matter. When the epidemic finally died down months later, roughly a thousand people had been struck by the “laughing disease.”

As part of our effort to understand what makes people laugh, we traveled to northeastern Tanzania, tracing omuneepo’s spread across the region more than a half-century ago. We tracked down teachers, students, and medical experts who experienced the phenomenon firsthand. We learned there was nothing funny at all about the situation at the time. The religious boarding school where the laughter began was marked by strict rules, windowless dorms, and devilishly uncomfortably chairs designed to promote correct posture. Investigators found similar conditions at other locations where the omuneepo later erupted: Serious overcrowding, poor food quality.

“It’s a form of complaint,” Kroeber Rugliyama, a longtime local psychiatrist said of the mysterious laughter. “They had no alternative form of expression.”........."--- http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/cultu...ghter.html

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