The Many Facets of Taboo
The World Book Encyclopedia defines Taboo as "an action, object, person, or place forbidden
by law or culture."1
An encyclopedia of the occult points out that taboo is found among many other cultures
including the ancient Egyptians, Jews and others.2
Mary Douglas has analyzed the many facets and interpretations of taboos across
various cultures. She points out that the word "taboo" originates from the Polynesian
languages meaning a religious restriction.3 She finds that "taboos flow from social
boundaries and support the social structure."4
In reference to Freak Shows at circuses, Rothenberg makes the observation that
people who possess uncommon features and who willingly go out in public to display
such oddities to onlookers are acting as "modern-day taboo breakers" by crossing
the "final boundary between societal acceptance and ostracism."5
In traditional British East Africa, between the time of puberty and marriage, a young
Akamba girl must maintain an avoidance relationship with her own father.6
Looking at taboo in a modern society, Marvin Harris gives an interesting example of the
application of cultural materialism to the Hindu taboo against eating beef.7
5 Kelly Rothenberg, "Tattooed People as Taboo Figures in Modern Society," 1996, BME/Psyber City, 18 Jan. 2005 .
6 Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo (New York: Random, 1918) 17.
7 Marvin Harris, "The Cultural Ecology of India’s Sacred Cattle," Current Anthropology 1992, 7:51-66, qtd. in Stacy McGrath, "Ecological Anthropology," Anthropological Theories: A Guide Prepared by Students for Students 19 Oct. 2001, U. of Alabama, 18 Jan. 2005 .
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