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A taboo is a strong social prohibition (or ban) against words, objects, actions, or people that are considered undesirable by a group, culture, or society. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent. Some taboo activities or customs are prohibited under law and transgressions may lead to severe penalties. Other taboos result in embarrassment, shame, and rudeness.

It is generally supposed that taboo is older than gods and dates back to a period before any kind of religion existed.<ref>Freud (1950, 18–19).</ref> The English term was borrowed from the Tongan language and appears in many Polynesian cultures.


[edit] Etymology

The etymology of "taboo" is usually traced back to the Tongan language or other related Polynesian languages.

Common etymology<ref></ref> traces the word back to the Tongan tabu (or tapu)<ref></ref> meaning "under prohibition". This view traces the word back to the year 1777 and an English explorer, Captain James Cook, visiting a place he named "the Friendly Islands" (now Tonga). Describing the Tongans, he wrote:

"Not one of them would sit down, or eat a bit of any thing.... On expressing my surprise at this, they were all taboo, as they said; which word has a very comprehensive meaning; but, in general, signifies that a thing is forbidden.... When any thing is forbidden to be eat, or made use of, they say, that it is taboo."

Other sources indicate the word can also be derived from the Fijian word tabu.<ref></ref>

[edit] Examples

Taboos can include dietary restrictions (halal and kosher diets, religious vegetarianism, and the prohibition of cannibalism), restrictions on sexual activities, gender roles and relationships (sex outside of marriage, adultery, intermarriage, miscegenation, homosexuality, incest, animal-human sex, pedophilia, necrophilia), restrictions of bodily functions (burping, flatulence, restrictions on state of genitalia such as circumcision or sex reassignment), exposure of body parts (nudity), and restrictions on the use of offensive language also known as obscenity and vulgarity.

[edit] The taboo on food

See also: Taboo food and drink
  • A Maori woman having eaten of some fruit, and being afterwards told that the fruit had been taken from a tabooed place, exclaimed that the spirit of the chief, whose sanctity had been thus profaned, would kill her. This was in the afternoon, and next day by twelve o'clock she was dead.<ref>Frazer (1911, 135), quoting Brown (1845, [76]).</ref> An observer who knows the Maoris well says, "Tapu [Taboo] is an awful weapon. I have seen a strong young man die the same day he was tapued; the victims die under it as though their strength ran out as water."<ref>Frazer (1911, 135), quoting Tregear (1890, [100]).</ref>

[edit] The Taboo on the dead

  • Among the Maoris anyone who had handled a corpse or taken any part in its burial was in the highest degree unclean and was almost cut off from intercourse with his fellow-men. He could not enter any house, or come into contact with any person or thing without infecting them. He might not even touch food with his hands, which, owing to their uncleanness, had become quite useless. "Food would be set for him on the ground, and he would then sit or kneel down, and, with his hands carefully held behind his back, would gnaw at it as best he could. In some cases he would be fed by another person, who with outstretched arm contrived to do it without touching the tabooed man." The mourners of the dead were also secluded from the public. When their period of mourning was near completion, "all the dishes he had used in his seclusion were diligently smasshed, and all the garments he had worn were carefully thrown away."<ref>Freud (1950, 52), quoting Frazer (1911, 138f.).</ref>
  • Among the Shuswasp of British Columbia widows and widowers in mourning are secluded and forbidden to touch their own head or body; the cups and cooking vessels which they use may be used by no one else. [...] No hunter would come near such mourners, for their presence is unlucky. If their shadow were to fall on anyone, he would be taken ill at once. They employ thorn-bushes for bed and pillow, in order to keep away the ghost of the deceased; and thorn bushes are also laid all around their beds.<ref>Frazer (1911, 142), quoting Boas (1890 [643f.]).</ref>

[edit] The taboo on rulers

Main article: Taboo on rulers
  • The Nubas of East Africa believe that they would die if they entered the house of their priestly king; however they can evade the penalty of their intrusion by baring the left shoulder and getting the king to lay his hands on it.<ref>Freud (1950, 41–42), quoting Frazer (1911, 132).</ref>
  • In West Africa, at Shark Point near Cape Padron, in Lower Guinea, lives the priestly king Kukulu, alone in a wood. He may not touch a woman or leave his house; indeed he may not even quit his chair, which he is obliged to sleep sitting, for if he lay down no wind would rise and navigation would be stopped.<ref>Frazer (1911, 3f.), quoting Bastian (1874-5 [1, 287 & 355]).</ref>
  • The ancient kings of Ireland were subject to a number of strange restrictions as listed in The Book of Rights. The king, for instance, may not stay in a certain town on a particular day of the week; he may not cross a river on a particular hour of the day; he may not encamp for nine days on a certain plain, and so on.<ref>Frazer (1911, 11f.).</ref>

[edit] The taboo on warriors

Restrictions placed on a victorious slayer are unusually frequent and as a rule severe.<ref>Freud (1950, 39).</ref>

  • In Timor, the leader of the expedition is forbidden "to return at once to his own house. A special hut is prepared for him, in which he has to reside for two months, undergoing bodily and spiritual purification. During this time he may not go to his wife nor feed himself; the food must be put in his mouth by another person."<ref>Freud (1950, 39), quoting [Müller (1857, 2, 252)].</ref>
  • In some Dyak tribes men returning from a successful expedition are obliged to keep to themselves for several days and abstain from various kinds of food; they may not touch iron nor have any intercourse with women.<ref>Freud (1950, 39), [quoting Frazer (1911, 167)].</ref>
  • In Logea, an island in the neighborhood of New Guinea, "men who have killed or assisted in killing enemies shut themselves up for about a week in their houses. They must avoid all intercourse with their wives and friends, and they may not touch food with their hands. They may eat vegetable food only which is brought to them cooked in special pots. The intention of these restrictions in to gaurd the men against the smell of the blood of the slain; for it is believed that if they smelt the blood they would fall ill and die.
  • In the Toaripi or Motumotu tribe of south-eastern New Guinea a man who has killed another may not go near his wife, and may not touch food with his fingers. He is fed by others, and only with certain kinds of food. These observances last till the new moon."<ref>Freud (1950, 39), quoting Frazer (1911, 167).</ref>

[edit] Origins

There are varying explanations for the origins of taboos. While some explanations are anthropological and explain taboos using history and cultural experiences, other explanations are psychoanalytical and explain taboos as an unconscious phenomenon passing through generations.

[edit] Sigmund Freud

German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt explains that taboos were originally nothing other than an objectified fear of a "demonic" power which was believed to lie hidden in a tabooed object.<ref>Freud (1950, 24).</ref> Sigmund Freud believes this to be a superficial explanation having nothing to do with the true origins of taboos. He claims that many similarities between taboo-holders and obsessive neurotics point to "a psychological condition that prevails in the unconscious".<ref>Freud (1950, 26–30).</ref> Freud believes this "unconsciousness" is central to understanding the history of taboos. He then reconstructs the history of taboo based on the model of obsessional prohibitions as follows:

"Taboos, we must suppose, are prohibitions of primæval antiquity which were at some time externally imposed upon a generation of primitive men; they must, that is to say, no doubt have been impressed on them violently by the previous generation. These prohibitions must have concerned activities towards which there was a strong inclination. They musht then have persisted from generation to generation, perhaps merely as a result of tradition transmitted through parental and social authority."<ref>Freud (1950, 31).</ref>

And so, obviously, "Anyone who has violated a taboo becomes taboo himself because he possesses the dangerous quality of tempting others to follow his example."<ref>Freud (1950, 32).</ref>

[edit] In literature

[edit] Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud provided an analysis of taboo behaviours, highlighting strong unconscious motivations driving such prohibitions. In this system, described in his collections of essays Totem and Taboo, Freud postulates a link between forbidden behaviours and the sanctification of objects to certain kinship groups. Freud also states here that the only two "universal" taboos are that of incest and patricide, which formed the eventual basis of modern society.

[edit] Fady Bahig on sex

A good example of sex regarded as a taboo can be seen in Fady Bahig's novel The Journey of The Fool, presented on the mouth of Gerald Grotesque to scare the protagonist:

“Do you know why parents make sure that their young children would never know about [sex]? It is because only then that the poor young kids will realize that this world is not the masterpiece of the average Disney artist! Sex… Sex is just like a boil. You have been born with it but you have always been unaware of its existence. You came across it in a day of adolescence. At the first sight you have felt it itching, you have felt it itching with anger. Anger is the son of regret, regret that it was forced to leave you in peace for all those years. Now, you will definitely rub it, and the more you will, the more it will itch you and the more it will swell and get hot. Only after it gets a cupful of your nerves, and gives you a spoonful of its forbidden bitter sweetness,” he leant towards me, his face looking at the bed, then he slowly raised his head slightly, his opthalmic blue eyes appearing directly under his devilish white eyebrows, “It bursts in blood.”

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes


[edit] References

  • Bastian, A. (1874–5). Die deutsche Expedition an der Loango-Küste. [2 vols.] Jena.
  • Boas, F. (1890). "Second General Report on the Indians of British Columbia". Report of Sixtieth Meeting of the British Association: 562.
  • Brown, W. (1845). New Zealand and its Aborigines. London.
  • Frazer, J. G. (1911). Taboo and the Perils of the Soul (The Golden Bough, 3rd ed., Part II), London.
  • Müller, S. (1857). Reizen en Onderzoekingen in den Indischen Archipel, Amsterdam.
  • Tregear, E. (1890). "The Maoris of New Zealand". Journal of the Anthropological Institute, xix.
  • Zweifel, J., and M. Moustier (1880). Voyage aux sources du Niger. Marseilles.

[edit] External links

bg:Табу cs:Tabu da:Tabu de:Tabu el:Ταμπού es:Tabú eo:Tabuo fa:تابو fr:Tabou fy:Taboe it:Tabù he:טאבו (חרם) hu:Tabu nl:Taboe ja:タブー no:Tabu nn:Tabu pl:Tabu pt:Tabu ru:Табу simple:Taboo sr:Табу fi:Tabu sv:Tabu tr:Tabu uk:Табу yi:טאבו zh:禁忌


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