The most plausible explanation for hundreds of people in a rural African country coming down with a mass sociogenic illness has to do with what happened in the country in the months leading up to it. In late 1961, Tanzania, which was then called Tanganyika, gained independence — it had been a British colony for four decades. Although this sounds like a positive step, it threw the country into cultural chaos.
Tanzania was suddenly a socialist state, and the new government was eager to make changes. Local clans were broken up and land changed hands. Almost overnight, there was a huge amount of pressure to adopt Christianity and modern systems of government, instead of the belief systems and social structures that had endured for hundreds or even thousands of years. People were even offered money to choose one church over another.
Life in Tanzania became very different, all at once, and it's easy to imagine how stressful that must have been for everyone.
Humans look to each other to know how to behave, and it's possible that the first girls who could not stop laughing, crying, screaming and fainting had just had enough — maybe of boarding school, maybe of the new order of things. Their schoolmates saw their uncontrollable laughter and thought, I feel like that, too. Over the next 18 months, people all over the country expressed their fear, anxiety, sense of overwhelming stress, grief and confusion through laughter.
Sometimes a good laugh can make you feel better, but experts are doubtful the laughter improved anybody's existential crisis. Wave after wave of the laughing epidemic shivered through Tanzania, until it eventually stopped all together. It's the only one of its kind to ever have been recorded.