Taboo- a prohibition

Taboo- a prohibition

In simple terms, taboo means banned on grounds of morality or taste. It is a kind of prohibition.

Taboo is taken from the Polynesian word ‘tabu’ which means forbidden. Taboo means certain kinds of restrictions, the violation of which either naturally or through supernatural means punishes the violator.  

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary- Taboo is a prohibition imposed by social custom or as a protective measure.

Taboo is something that is not acceptable to say, mention, or do.

According to Cambridge Dictionary– Taboo is a subject, word, or action that is avoided for religious or social reasons.

James Frazer (photo- iResearchNet)

James Frazer was the first scholar to investigate taboo. Violations of taboo have adverse effects like floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, or other natural disasters. This is the way how supernatural power punishes for the violation. Taboos are found widely among primitive societies. It is common among the tribals.

Radcliffe Brown proposed the word ritual avoidance or ritual prohibition for taboo.

Sigmund Freud regards the taboos as an act of repentance.

The taboos are verbal they are not written, they are part of a culture. Being associated with the supernatural, taboo became part of the belief of a culture. There is an element of compulsion involved in taboo.

Taboo is both positive and negative. If it is stopping you then it is negative in nature.

Every culture has its own standards for what is socially acceptable. There are different types of prohibition in different tribes.

Examples of Taboo

Among the Oran and Maler tribes, women are not allowed to touch the plough.

Among the Todas, buffaloes and cows are considered as sacred. The position of a dairyman is highest in society. Women are not allowed to cook food involving milk.

Among the Kharu tribe, males are not allowed in the kitchen and they have to be away from women gathering.

Types of taboos

Food taboo

Sex taboo

Religious taboo

Protective taboo

Food taboo means that some food items are not allowed to consume. Examples in some societies, Tulsi tree is not allowed to cut and consume, Avoidance of eating beef among Hindus (Cow is considered sacred in Hinduism), avoidance of consuming milk and milk products among the Polynesians etc.

Image source- Youngisthan. In

Sex taboo is prohibited pertain to sexual relations. There is an incest universal taboo. Sex is not allowed between close relatives. The definition of a close relative is different in different cultures. 

Religious taboos are to protect the privilege and prestige of sacred persons. For example in Catholicism, it is considered taboo to use birth control medications or devices, in some cultures menstruation is considered taboo because of religious reasons.

Protection taboo is simply for the sake of protection. For example- tribal chiefs and kings are not allowed to be touched by commoners.

Functions of the taboo

Sacred or ritual functions

Social control- Incest taboo

Protect adultery

Protect theft

Maintain social order

Maintains morality

Prohibit profane activities

Protects religious beliefs

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