Piblokto, also known as pibloktoq and Arctic hysteria, is a condition most commonly appearing in Inughuit societies living within the Arctic Circle. Piblokto is a culture-specific hysterical reaction in Inuit, especially women, who may perform irrational or dangerous acts, followed by amnesia for the event. Piblokto may be linked to repression of the personality of Inuit women. The condition appears most commonly in winter. It is considered to be a form of a culture-bound syndrome, although more recent studies (see Skepticism section) question whether it exists at all. Piblokto is also part of the glossary of cultural bound syndromes found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).
Piblokto was first documented in 1892 and appears to be common to all Arctic regions. Explorers were the first to notice piblokto. Among these, Admiral Robert Peary provided a detailed look into the disorder during an expedition to Greenland. The acts Peary and his men witnessed among the Inuit women provided entertainment, and, having sent the women's male counterparts out on missions, Peary's men reaped the sexual benefits of being the only males present. Piblokto is not limited to the indigenous people; reports of stranded sailors during the 1800s exhibiting the same symptoms have been found. The disorder is said to have existed before Western contact and still occurs today.
Piblokto is most often found but not confined to the Inughuit cultures in the polar regions of northern Greenland. Similar symptoms have been reported in European sailors stranded in Arctic regions in the 1800s. Among the Inughuit, the attacks are not considered out of the ordinary. No native theory of the disorder is currently reported. This condition is most often seen in Inughuit women. Piblokto is most common during long Arctic nights.
Piblokto is an abrupt dissociative episode with four phases: social withdrawal, excitement, convulsions and stupor, and recovery.
Although there is no known cause for piblokto, Western scientists have attributed the disorder to the lack of sun, the extreme cold, and the desolate state of most villages in the region. A reason for this disorder present in this culture may be due to the isolation of their cultural group.
This culture-bound syndrome is possibly linked to vitamin A toxicity (hypervitaminosis A). The native Inughuit diet or Eskimo nutrition provides rich sources of vitamin A through the ingestion of livers, kidneys, and fat of arctic fish and mammals and is possibly the cause or a causative factor. This causative factor is through the disturbance that has been reported for males, females, adults, children, and dogs. The ingestion of organ meats, particularly the livers of Arctic fish and mammals, where the vitamin is stored in toxic quantities, can be fatal to most people.
Inughuit tradition states that it is caused by evil spirits possessing the living. Shamanism and animism are dominant themes in Inughuit traditional beliefs with the angakkuk (healer) acting as a mediator with the supernatural forces. Angakkuit use trance states to communicate with spirits and carry out faith healing. There is a view among the Inughuit that individuals entering trance states should be treated with respect given the possibility of a new "revelation" emerging as a result. Treatment in piblokto cases usually involves allowing the episode to run its course without interference. While piblokto can often be confused with other conditions, (including epilepsy) in which failure to intervene can lead to the victim coming to harm, most cases tend to be more typical.
Although piblokto has a place in the historical record and official medical canons, a number of Arctic researchers and Arctic residents doubt its existence. The phenomena, they suggest, may be more rooted in the experience and behavior of the early European explorers than the Inuit themselves.
In 1988 Parks Canada historian Lyle Dick began a substantial challenge to the concept that piblokto exists at all. Dick examined the original records of the Arctic explorers, and ethnographic and linguistic reports on Inughuit societies, and discovered that not only is the majority of academic speculation into piblokto based on reports of only eight cases, but the word "piblokto" / "pibloktoq" does not exist within the Inughuit language; possibly, Dick concluded, this may have been the result of errors in phonetic transcription. In a 1995 paper published in the journal Arctic Anthropology, and in his 2001 book Muskox land: Ellesmere Island in the Age of Contact, Dick suggests that piblokto is a "phantom phenomenon", arising more from the Inuhuit reaction to European explorers in their midst.
Similarly, Hughes and Simons have described piblokto as a "catch-all rubric under which explorers lumped various Inuhuit anxiety reactions, expressions of resistance to patriarchy or sexual coercion, and shamanistic practice".
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