From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards.
Please improve this article if you can. (March 2007)
This article is about cultural prohibitions in general, for other uses, see Taboo (disambiguation).
For the Polynesian religious concept (from which the word "Taboo" is derived), see Tapu.
A taboo is a strong social prohibition (or ban) against words, objects, actions, discussions, or people that are considered undesirable or offensive by a group, culture, or society. Breaking a taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent. Some taboo activities or customs are prohibited by law and transgressions may lead to severe penalties. Other taboos result in embarrassment, shame and rudeness.
3.1 Sigmund Freud
4 Taboo on the dead
4.1.3 Naming the dead
4.2 Origins and causes
5 Taboo on rulers
6 Taboo on warriors
7 See also
10 External links
Common etymology traces the word back to the Tongan tabu (or tapu) meaning "under prohibition" or "not allowed". In its modern use in Tonga, the word "tapu" also means "sacred" or "holy", although often in the sense of being restricted or protected by custom or by law. For example, the main island in the Kingdom of Tonga, where the capital Nuku'alofa is situated and most of the population resides, is called "Tongatapu". In this context, it means "Sacred South", rather than "forbidden south".
The use of the word "taboo" drawn from "tapu" meaning "not allowed" dates back to 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.
Some Solomon Islanders say that their languages have a word tabu (pronounced tam-boo) that means holy. It refers to places in the bush where holy spirits reside (usually marked with an object, such as a giant clam shell or stone carving). Those areas should not be disturbed unless a ceremony is taking place, therefore they are places that should not be touched.
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 and paraphilias), restrictions of bodily functions (burping, flatulence, defecation, urination, masturbation, nosepicking, and spitting), restrictions on state of genitalia (circumcision or sex reassignment, exposure of body parts, pornography and nudity), illicit drugs, substance abuse, alcoholism, bodily pain, medical surgery, satanism or devil worship, restrictions on the use of offensive language also known as obscenity and vulgarity, and other topics/subjects that provoke emotional angst or may disturb people to discomfort. Some taboos originated by acts of authority, be it legal, social or religious, over a period of time.
"Common courtesy" taboos have more to do with etiquette and respect, including topics on sexuality, religion, death, suicide, disease, natural disasters, divorce, politics, crime, justice, money issues, gender, race/ethnicity, human rights, oppression, animal abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, abortion, miscarriage, pregnancy, childbirth, age, income, height, weight, appearance, and a variety of religious sins. Environmentalism, other ecology-related issues and scientific controversies (human evolution, eugenics, in-vitro fertilization, human cloning and stem cell research) are often treated like a taboo by their controversial and divisive nature in the realm of politics, morality and religious belief. When not in "polite society", discussions on taboos are allowed in humorous expression, such as comedy and satire.