The Tanganyika laughter epidemic
of 1962 was an outbreak of mass hysteria, or Mass Psychogenic Illness
Mass psychogenic illness , also called mass sociogenic illness, is “the rapid spread of illness signs and symptoms affecting members of a cohesive group, originating from a nervous system disturbance involving excitation, loss or alteration of function, whereby physical complaints that are...
(MPI), rumored to have occurred in or near the village of Kashasha
Kashasha is a village on the western coast of Lake Victoria in the Kagera Region of what is now Tanzania, near the border of Uganda.The village is known for having been the locus of the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962....
on the western coast of Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria is one of the African Great Lakes. The lake was named for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, by John Hanning Speke, the first European to discover this lake....
in the modern nation of Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...
Tanganyika , later formally the Republic of Tanganyika, was a sovereign state in East Africa from 1961 to 1964. It was situated between the Indian Ocean and the African Great Lakes of Lake Victoria, Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika...
) near the border of Kenya.
The laughter epidemic began on January 30, 1962, at a mission-run boarding school for girls in Kashasha. The laughter started with three girls and spread haphazardly throughout the school, affecting 95 of the 159 pupils, aged 12–18. Symptoms lasted from a few hours to 16 days in those affected. The teaching staff were not affected but reported that students were unable to concentrate on their lessons. The school was forced to close down on March 18, 1962.
After the school was closed and the students were sent home, the epidemic spread to Nshamba, a village that was home to several of the girls. In April and May, 217 people had laughing attacks in the village, most of them being school children and young adults. The Kashasha school was reopened on May 21, only to be closed again at the end of June. In June, the laughing epidemic spread to Ramashenye girls’ middle school, near Bukoba, affecting 48 girls. Another outbreak occurred in Kanyangereka and two nearby boys schools were closed.
The Tanganyika laughter epidemic is sometimes understood as implying that thousands of people were continuously laughing for months. However this may not have been the case. Other reports tell that the epidemic consisted of occasional attacks of laughter among groups of people and the laughter was incapacitating when it struck. Scientists have confirmed that laughter
Laughing is a reaction to certain stimuli, fundamentally stress, which serves as an emotional balancing mechanism. Traditionally, it is considered a visual expression of happiness, or an inward feeling of joy. It may ensue from hearing a joke, being tickled, or other stimuli...
can be contagious.
The school from which the epidemic sprang was sued; the children and parents transmitted it to the surrounding area. Other schools, Kashasha itself, and another village, comprising thousands of people, were all affected to some degree. Six to eighteen months after it started, the phenomenon died off. The following symptoms were reported on an equally massive scale as the reports of the laughter itself: pain, fainting, respiratory problems, rashes, attacks of crying, random screaming. In total 14 schools were shut down and 1000 people were affected.