To obtain 'folk' explanations of specific cases of mental illness the authors interviewed 35 baa (insane) Laotian individuals and their relatives and neighbors. They obtained 54 explanations; 15 focused on supernatural causes, 15 on physical causes, 14 on social problems, and 10 on psychological states. Although 31 theories (57%) focused on etiologic factors familiar to clinical psychiatrists, many self-evident factors (such as familial prevalence) were not mentioned. Except for 3 cases, responsibility for the illness was attributed to factors outside the subject's control. This view of mental illness absolves the baa person from blame and ensures support from the social group.