What people consider normal or aberrant is defined by their culture; any anthropology 101 class teaches you that. And this typically leads to debates about universalism versus cultural relativism. And this historically leads to disagreements, war, and mass slaughter. However, this next story of defining “crazy” won’t go that far.
I asked a Samoan friend of mine the other day to tell me some Samoan ghost stories. Having lived through the tsunami that devastated his village in September 2009 and working at a resort in which seven guests were killed, he has now had plenty of spine-tingling moments. Nevertheless, the ghost story I want to share is one from when he was a child. Tele told me of a strange girl with whom he went to primary school. She didn’t have many friends and just didn’t fit in. There was one place where she always hung out after school: on a particular rock. Of course, this wasn’t just any rock (or this wouldn’t be a ghost story), it was someone’s gravestone. Well, after frequenting this location for some time, weird things started happening to her. All the villagers blamed it on her sitting on the grave. (Side note: sitting on people’s graves is not usually a strange thing in Samoa. People are often buried right on their family’s front porch and it becomes a seat or a bench.) Finally, one night all the students went on a field trip of sorts and the boys’ sleeping quarters were separated from the girls’. When the girl woke up in the morning, her bra and panties were on backwards. Everyone swore they didn’t do it to her. There were also things written on her body; Tele didn’t tell me what. So at this point in the story I say, “That’s weird. Maybe she did it herself.” “No, Sam. We aren’t crazy like that. It was the ghost.”
And that’s it. That’s all he had to say. What would be crazy was if the girl switched her underwear around and then lied about it. Clearly the logical explanation was that a ghost or spirit did it to her. Traditionally in Western culture, the most logical answer is the simplest answer; therefore of course I jumped to the conclusion that she did it herself. There is no proof of ghosts, and empirically it would follow that the girl had played the trick herself. But to Tele, a spirit was the most logical explanation.
So what’s really crazy? Turning your underwear backwards in the night and making people believe it was a ghost, or that a spirit did, in fact, put your panties in a twist?