Concepts of Illness Among the Swahili of Lamu, Kenya

Rebecca Gearhart, Munib Said Abdulrehman

Research output: Journal ArticleArticlepeer-review


The Swahili of Lamu, Kenya, understand illness as the result of a spiritual imbalance caused by personal transgression or an attack by harmful forces directed by an envious person. Another underlying component of the Swahili concept of illness is that each person’s physical body operates in conjunction with personal attributes that are fixed at birth and determine moral character, behavior, and predisposition to ailments. When physical symptoms occur, the Swahili focus on identifying the human or supernatural entity that caused the illness in consultation with a range of healers who specialize in a variety of curing strategies. Two case studies illustrate how culturally congruent nursing care can be achieved when health care providers understand the Swahili framework of diagnosing and treating illness.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalJournal of Transcultural Nursing
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • transcultural health
  • ethnography
  • holistic health
  • international educational experiences
  • Swahili
  • Kenyan
  • East Africa
  • concepts of illness


  • Anthropology
  • Medicine and Health Sciences
  • Nursing

Cite this