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An indigenous conceptualization of reactive depression in Trinidad

  • Roland Littlewood (a1)

While depressive reactions appear to be universal, until recently they have seldom been described outside Europe, probably because of their lack of exotic salience, but also because they are seldom identified locally as distinct entities. Where it occurs, such an identification reflects a local preference for the articulation of individual psychological notions, rather than universal moral imperatives. While the symptoms of reactive depression are recognized in rural Trinidad as a common experience, but not especially remarked, they are also identified by Afro-Caribbeans as a specific state, Tabanka, following the loss of a sexual partner to another. Tabanka is characterized by lassitude, anorexia, insomnia, feelings of worthlessness, anger, a loss of interest in work and other activities and, especially, by a preoccupation with the faithless one. It is said to be most common among married men and among the upwardly socially mobile, and to lead to heavy drinking and occasionally madness or suicide. The precipitation of Tabanka provokes hilarity rather than moral indignation, and its humour articulates an egalitarian and individualistic working-class attitude to marriage and social mobility. In contrast, Trinidadians of Asian or Venezuelan origin emphasize moral notions of honour and shame.

Corresponding author
1Address for correspondence: Dr R. Littlewood, Department of Psychological Medicine, Guy's Hospital, St Thomas Street, London SE1 9RT.
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