Taboo: Meaning, Examples and Types of Taboos

Taboo, alternatively called tabu, tapu or Tongan. It is a prohibition of social actions based on false beliefs that performing such actions is either too scared, or too dangerous for the human race. Disregarding taboo is generally considered a deviant act by the society. Taboo is putting a person or a thing under temporary or permanent prohibition, especially as a social custom.

taboo definition

There are different theories of approaches to this concept. The religious approach focuses on taboo derived from belief in spirit and inspired by the awe of supernatural. The cultural taboo demands prohibition of various cultural laws which are forbidden in different cultures. The food and drink taboo demands prohibition of various food and drinks by the society. The power of it lies primarily in the emotional forces they exude. Even the thought of violating a taboo triggers a punishment.

Religious, social, cultural taboo is practiced in every part of the world.For example, The practice of Sati was a taboo.

In Tanzania, customary marine tenure takes the form of restrictions of fishers on the fishing grounds and guarding. Fourteen forms of taboos and beliefs that inadvertently protect fish stocks and consequently protect fishing habitats have been identified in Tanzania. They are:-

  1. Dietary restrictions
  2. Restriction on fishing before bathing after sex
  3. Restriction on fishing for a menstruating woman
  4. Restriction on fishing during strong winds and heavy rains
  5. Lost fishers during fishing
  6. Death events
  7. Mentioning names of terrestrial animals
  8. Alcohol consumption
  9. Festivals and special day
  10. Meeting with one person
  11. Fishing without success
  12. Receiving payment for fish in advance
  13. Fabricating of fishing vessels and gears
  14. Impurity of fishing vessels and gears

Types of taboo:-

1. Religious Taboo

It is something in a particular religion which the religion considers forbidden.

1.Religious taboo in Hinduism:

In many religions in India, marrying outside your religion is considered unsacred and is frowned upon. Also, during the first four days of menstrual cycle, a woman is considered impure and is not even allowed to enter temples. Menstrual blood is considered to be impure and girls are not supposed to enter kitchen also.

2.Religious taboo in Islam:-

The consumption of alcohol is a major sin or “haraam’’ in Islam. Homosexuality in Islam is a big sin and is a crime under Islamic law. According to Sharia, homosexuality is a vile form of fornication punishable by death.

3.Religious taboo in Judaism:-

According to Jewish dietary law found in the Torah, all food must be kosher. A Jew must only marry a Jew. Violation of such practices be it marrying a non-Jew would be considered a violation of Halakah and taboo.

2. Cultural Taboo

There is a number of cultural taboos prevailing in and around the world. A list of them is given below,

  1. In Thailand and Arab countries never point your shoes to another person. The shoe or your foot is unclean part of your body.
  2. In many African countries when talking to a tribal chief, make sure that your head is not above his.
  3. If you are a male don’t try to shake hands with an orthodox Muslim woman
  4. Don’t cut your grass on Sunday in Switzerland
  5. It is considered bad luck for a building to have a 13th floor in the united states or a 4th floor in China
  6. Don’t touch a Mongolians head, hat or horse
  7. Cambodians believe that you should not take a photo of three people
  8. Don’t bring wine as a gift in France
  9. In Japan, don’t point with your chopsticks
  10. Never wear red to a funeral in China or write a person’s name in red in Korea.

3. Food and Drink Taboo

Food and drink taboo is a restriction on consumption of various kinds of food and drink. Examples:-

  1. Women in Papua New Guinea are not allowed to eat fresh meat, juicy bananas, or any red-colored food in the middle of their menstrual cycle.
  2. Predatory fish, like piranhas and bottom feeders, are considered taboo for the ill to eat in Brazil.
  3. Eating cow is prohibited, as it is thought of as god’s useful gift to mankind as it provides dairy products.
  4. Many Islamic and Muslim families not only avoid pork for religious reason, they believe they are bred in absolutely revolting conditions and are not worthy of consumption.

Hence, these are few of the plethoras of taboos that exist in our society. These are age-old practices which are still being practiced in the society. However, a lot has been eradicated but a lot more needs to be abolished.

by Nikita, Calcutta University

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