Cultural Causations and Expressions of Distress: a Caste Study of Buufis Amongst Somalis in Johannesburg

Jinnah, Z. (2016) Cultural Causations and Expressions of Distress: a Case Study of Buufis Amongst Somalis in Johannesburg Urban Forum [DOI: 10.1007/s12132-016-9283-y]

Buufis is a well-known concept among Somalis at home and in the diaspora, although its meaning shifts across time and space. Literally meaning ‘to blow, or inflate’ in Somali, buufis initially referred to the dream of resettlement among Somalis in refugee camps in Kenya in the early 1990s, spreading to refugee camps across Africa through transnational networks and mobility, and later used by scholars to describe a form of mental illness that ensued when this dream of resettlement was not realised. In this paper, I examine the use of buufis amongst Somalis in Johannesburg, South Africa to describe multiple forms of distress.

By exploring the narratives of a group of Somali refugees and asylum seekers, I show how a range of social, economic and political factors intersect to create triggers of distress. These are identified and articulated by the respondents as a state of buufis associated with feelings of distress, unhappiness and a desire to escape their current situation in the city. I argue that buufis is part of an invented language used and adopted to give meaning to cultural expressions of distress by self-settled Somali refugees and asylum seekers in Johannesburg. Underlying this argument is a call for a broader understanding of mental health perceptions, outcomes and responses that moves beyond biomedical perspectives in order to better understand and respond to some of the experiences raised here.

About Zaheera Jinnah

Zaheera Jinnah has a PhD in anthropology and a background in development studies and social work. Her research interests are in labour migration, gender and diaspora studies. She is a research associate at the ACMS where she teaches, supervises graduate students, and engages in policy and academic research. Her recent publication is the co-edited book (Palgrave) ‘Gender and Mobility in Africa: Borders, Bodies and Boundaries'.