The amok is a murderous behavior, always individual, observed in many parts of the world by ethnography , then theorized from its institutionalized form in Malaysia .

Observation and theory

Ethnology: definition and causes

The amok is the act of a person acting alone. It is a sudden bout of deadly violence that ends with the killing of the individual after the individual has reached a greater or lesser number of people. This form of amok observed by travelers and ethnologists especially in Malaysia (where does the word come from), India , Philippines , Polynesia , Tierra del Fuego , Caribbean , Arctic Region or Siberia is a predominantly male behavior 1. If the causes of the trigger are socially determined and of the order of the major frustrations (humiliations, failures in public) inducing a desire for revenge, the mechanism is that of brutal decompensation . Sometimes referred to as “murderous madness” 2 , the amok race is considered a form of suicide. Although it is usually stabbed in traditional societies, one can find an equivalent in the contemporary world with some of the massive killingsby firearms perpetrated by a single individual, ending in his capture or concrete death sometimes even self-administered, or by his voluntary social death when the perpetrator of the killing goes to court to be sentenced to it which in some cases leads him to execution. The central schema is then similar: a form of suicide accompanied by a liberation of the homicidal impulses.

There is also the story of decompensations corresponding to this definition, in personal diaries written by soldiers in the trenches during the Great War . In such scenes the author tells how one of his comrades, in an unpredictable way, goes alone spontaneously to the enemy trench with the intention of ending it himself while suppressing as many enemies as he will be possible 3 . In correspondence with the typology of suicides established by Durkheim , this form of decompensation under constraint of patriotic engagement is to criminal behavior what altruistic or fatalistic suicide is to selfish suicide.

Etymology and usage

Introduced in the French language around 1830, the term “amok” comes from the Malay word amuk which means “uncontrollable rage” which can designate both the affected person and the access itself.

The word was used by the British to describe indiscriminate murderous behavior. It was then used in India during the British Empire , to describe an elephant that had become uncontrollable and causing significant damage in its fury. The word was made popular by the colonial stories of Rudyard Kipling . But it is also commonly used in English to describe insane and destructive animal behaviors, even those of domestic animals. The word is still used today, in the expression “to run amok”, describing more broadly a behavior or a situation becoming out of control.


In 1904, Emil Kraepelin , a German psychiatrist who is one of the founders of modern scientific psychiatry , made a study trip to Java to test the universal value of his classification of psychiatric diseases. He identifies a number of disorders specific to this region, including amok and latah , for which he finds correspondences with the diagnostic entities he has defined previously. This trip marks the birth of “comparative psychiatry” 4 , 5 .

Amok in culture


The behavior of the amok was described by Stefan Zweig in his new Amok or the Mad of Malaysia ( Der Amokläufer , 1922), where the narrator meets in a boat an “amok” which describes his madness, when, after a long isolation period in Malaysia , a white woman submits a very special request.

The novel Malaysia , by the French writer Henri Fauconnier , who received the Prix ​​Goncourt for the book in 1930 , is based on the personal experience of the author of life in Malaysia, especially in rubber and palm plantations to oil. It includes a long sequence in his last quarter where one of the plantation employees gradually becomes amok and finally violent.

Morel, the main character in Romain Gary’s novel , Roots of Heaven (1956), is repeatedly described by other characters as amok: “It may surprise you, but in a way, I trust him. It looks stupid, but I think it’s pure … a madman, of course, a dive, but a sincere, a guy who has had enough. Enough of us, enough of our hands, our hearts, our poor brains … Enough of the human condition. Obviously, it is not on horseback and weapons in hand that we can leave. But it’s not a bad move. He became amok … ” ( The Roots of Heaven , 1956).

The amok appears in John Brunner’s Anticipation novel , Tous à Zanzibar (1968), which imagines the world in 2010. The world population lives under the constant threat of an amok crisis in one of its contemporaries, called Amocheur. Created by social pressure, the Amocheurs are suddenly seized with a deadly fury that leads them to attack their surroundings while endowing them with a superhuman physical force. In the 26 th chapter of the continuity one of the heroes, the American secret agent Donald Rogan, in a violent confrontation with one of these Amocheurs on the Indonesian island of imaginary Yatakang.

The writer Gerard de Villiers evoked this destructive passion in his novel Amok in Bali (1970).

In La Ligne noire (2004), a novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé , residents of South-East Asia talk about the amok as responsible for the murderous frenzy of a French serial killer who came to live in their region.

Herve Guibert , in her book Suzanne and Louise evokes her aunts and their dogs, Whiskey and Amok : “Louise will only have dogs that will be called Amok and Whiskey , homicidal madness and alcohol. ”


  • End of Symphony o 12 “Helsingeborg” BVN 318 of Rued Langgaard ( 1946 ): “Amok! A composer explodes.
  • Tink Walks Amok is an instrumental track by Frank Zappa on the album The Man from Utopia (1983).
  • In his song Sweet Amanite Phalloïde Queen , published in 1986 on the album Météo für nada , the artist Hubert-Félix Thiéfaine uses the word amok: “amour-amok et paradise”.
  • The French rock band La Souris déglinguée composed a musical theme called Amok serenade , published in 1989 in his album Paris 23.05.89 .
  • The German group of Eurodance 666 has titled “Amokk” a title released in 1998 on his album Paradoxx.
  • The German group Diary of Dreams has won Amok a song released in 2002 in his maxi-single Amok .
  • The German electronic band Terminal Choice titled Amok a song released in 2002 and resumed in 2003 as a bonus in his album Menschenbrecher .
  • The German group Kreator also used the theme of the amok for his song Amok Run on the album Hordes of Chaos (2009).
  • The group Atoms for Peace headlined her first album Amok (2013).
  • Finnish melodic heavy / death metal band Sentenced names his album released in 1993 ” Amok “.


Several films made from 1927 to 1993 in France, Mexico, Georgia, bear the title Amok .

Main article: Amok # Films .

Although not listed as such, the modern form of amok is the central argument which inspired several recent films including Freefall ( Falling Down ).

Amok in the news

Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who seems to have voluntarily crashed the Airbus A320 of Flight 9525 Germanwings in the Alps in March 2015, has been described as “amok pilot” by the German press 6 .

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Marcel Mauss , ” physical effect on the individual the idea of death suggested by the community [ archive ] .
  2. ↑ ” Amok entry ” , TLFi , CNRTL [ archive ] (the conduct described in the first quoted extract of Jean-Paul Sartre in La Nausée , “… engage in the frenzy of the amok” , does not correspond to the phenomenon).
  3. Carnets of the aspirant Laby, doctor in the trenches , Hachette.
  4. ↑ ( in ) Wolfgang George Jilek , ” Emil Kraepelin and comparative sociocultural psychiatry ” , Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci , vol.  245, o 4-5,p.  231-8. ( PMID  7578286 ) edit
  5. ↑ Marc Geraud , ” Emil Kraepelin : a pioneer of modern psychiatry (on the occasion of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his birth) [ Emil Kraepelin : a pioneer of modern psychiatry. On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary hundred and de son birth ] , ” Encephale , vol.  33, o 4 Pt 1p.  561-7. ( PMID  18033143 , DOI ENC-9-2007-33-4-C1-0013-7006-101019-200730042 , summary ) [ archive ] edit
  6. ↑ David Philippot , ” In Germany, the press wonders about Andreas Lubitz, the” pilot amok ‘ ‘ on , [ archive].