Review. Understanding Kuru: The Contribution of Anthropology and Medicine

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2008 Nov 27;363(1510):3715-20. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0072.


To understand kuru and solve the problems of its cause and transmission required the integration of knowledge from both anthropological and medical research. Anthropological studies elucidated the origin and spread of kuru, the local mortuary practices of endocannibalism, the social effects of kuru, the life of women and child-rearing practices, the kinship system of the Fore and their willingness to incorporate outsiders into it, the myths, folklore and history of the Fore and their neighbours, sorcery as a powerful social phenomenon and way of explaining the causation of disease, and concepts of the treatment of disease. Many scientists from different disciplines, government officers and others have contributed to this chapter of medical history but it is the Fore people who have contributed the most, through their suffering, their cooperative and reliable witness to kuru, and their participation, in various ways, in the research process itself.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Cannibalism / history*
  • Ethnic Groups / ethnology*
  • Folklore*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Kuru / epidemiology*
  • Kuru / ethnology*
  • Kuru / history*
  • Kuru / transmission
  • Papua New Guinea / epidemiology
  • Social Environment*