In a bizarre turn of events for about the past two years, a huge wave of people in Kalachi, northern Kazakhstan have been suddenly falling into a deep sleep for no apparent reason. An undisturbed slumber lasting for about 2-6 days on an average, it has been dubbed as a ‘sleeping sickness’. With the victims of this peculiar phenomenon waking up to recall next to nothing, or at most just terrifying hallucinations, doctors and scientists have been at a loss to justify the occurrence of this oddity.
Having marked its first strike in the March of 2013, the mysterious ‘sleeping sickness’ has since then lulled more than 120 villagers for days at end, resulting in a widespread fear of falling asleep among the people in Kalachi. With explanations being continuously brought up and ruled out, the possibility of the mystery becoming a mass hysteria keeps getting stronger by the day.
What is a mass hysteria?
A mass hysteria could be described as a queer inexplicable occurrence among a large number of people, the medical reasons for the happening of which are unknown. Threatening delusions, they are often spread through rumours. It is more often than not limited to the people of a city or country or any other geographical constraint.
With this recent slumber of a huge number in Kalachi, we are reminded of a few of the most baffling cases of mass hysteria in the past, and I stress upon the term ‘baffling’!
The Dancing Plague of 1518
The streets of Strasbourg, France in the distant early 16th century witnessed an unrehearsed flash mob when a woman named Frau Troffea started to dance violently out of nowhere. The frenzy was so powerful that before she could stop herself from her vigorous frolicking she was joined one by one by her wavered neighbours. The movement gained so much traction that by the end of the month there were around 400 people dancing on the streets of the bewildered city. The situation turned grave when exhaustion and strokes from constant dancing resulted in deaths. With no valid explanation for the occurrence, the dancing ended slowly and substantially, as inexplicably as it had begun!
The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962
30th January, 1962 was just a regular day in a school in a village in Tanganyika until a group of girls in a class started laughing hysterically. The joke must have been remarkably hilarious because shortly, the number of laughing pupils spread from a mere dozen to about a hundred. The laughter didn’t stop there as the epidemic spread further to over a 1,000 people, with most of them being children. The school being shut down was the last of all concerns as a number of health issues arose including dizziness, breathing problems, and fainting as the people laughed non stop from a few hours to even 16 days! What exactly triggered the peculiarity remains unknown.
The Halifax Slasher Incident in 1938
In Halifax, England in the month of November in 1938 panic broke out after two people claimed that they were assaulted by a man wielding a mallet. What happened next is plain obvious. With a huge number of cases being reported of a mysterious man attacking the public, the Scotland yard was called upon to aid the police in putting an end to the activities of this elusive ‘slasher’. The situation escalated to a level where people were afraid to step out of their homes with a number of innocents being wrongly accused as the slasher and being beaten up. The week long scare ended with 5 people being charged who admitted to have made the story up. So much for mischief those days.
Mumbai “Sweet Water” Incident in 2006
In a bizarre incident one could claim of utter disregard for hygiene, hundreds of people in Mumbai rushed to drink polluted sea water from the Arabian Sea, claiming that it had magically turned sweet with the ability to cure ailments. A number of people started collecting the water for themselves and their families, despite repeated warnings from the authorities against drinking the water for it could lead to health concerns. However, the people wouldn’t stop who saw the ‘miracle’ as a blessing from a Sufi Saint from the 13th Century called Makhdoom Ali Mahimi.
The Genital Snatching/Retraction Panic
Yes, you read it right. As eerie and amusing as it may sound,the genital retraction syndrome is based on a real psychological disorder called koro in which the victims, usually men, begin to think that their genitals are starting to shrink. Widely reported in different intervals of time in both Africa and Asia, the condition had a huge population in these areas in widespread panic. People claimed that their genitals were shrinking and would eventually disappear after they were touched/brushed by a random stranger. Many people were accused of possessing this absurd power, with a few them even being beaten to death. Most of the victims of panic recovered within a period of a few hours to a few days, finally realising that their genitals were still intact!