TABOO

Report
Sir James Frazer Lecture
Radcliff-Brown
 Taboo- ‘tabu’- to forbid, forbidden, any kind of
prohibition
 Polynesian Tabu- newly-born infant, a corpse, and the
chief are considered Tabu.
 Individuals who are tabu must engage in precautions
to prevent from becoming ill.
 Noa- Status of a person after they are restored to their
normal condition through rites of purification or
desacralisation.
 Originally, anthropologists believed that taboo was
confined to the black and brown races of the Pacific
 All cultures have some type of taboo
 Ritual Prohibition- A rule of behavior which is
associated with a belief that an infraction will result in
an undesirable change in the ritual status of the
person who fails to keep to the rule.
Taboo
Result
Ritual
Polynesian touches corpse
Will be in danger of illness
Undergoes ritual to escape
danger and be restored to his
former ritual status
Spilling Salt
Bad luck
Throw pinch of salt over
shoulder
Catholics abstaining from
eating meat on Fridays and
during Lent
Sin- change in ritual status
Confess and obtain absolution
Hebrew touches the unclean
beast (aware or unaware)
Sin
Confess and offer sacrifice
Speak the name of soon to be
parent
Bad Luck, Illness, Possibly
Death
Ritual must be done
 Thahu- undesirable ritual status that results from
failure to observe rules of ritual avoidance
 A person who is thahu will be ill and will probably die
unless he removes the thahu through ritual.
 This includes animal sacrifice
Mentawai Ceremony
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_det
ailpage&v=kUXDvU87-M4
 Religion- a propitiation of
superhuman powers which
are believed to control
nature and man
 The rite is simply
expressive and has no
purpose, being not a
means to an end but an
end in itself.
 Eating meat on Friday
 Magic- the erroneous
application of the notion of
causality
 Definite practical purpose
which is known to all who
practise it and can be easily
elicited from any native
informant
 Spilling Salt
 This difference is not as discernible in many
circumstances because there is a great deal of overlap
between magic and religion.
 Religious explanation- Any breach in
commandments are punished by an
atua (ghost) afflicting the sinner with a
painful malady until death.
 Magical explanation- The native conceives of the
change in his ritual status as taking place as the
immediate result from acts such as, touching a corpse.
They only consider the gods and spirits of being
concerned, when talking of taboos as a whole.
 Certain objects or individuals are avoided because they
are holy, while others are avoided because they are
unclean
 Polynesians do not identify chiefs as holy or corpses as
unclean. Both are considered dangerous.
 It is important to avoid implementing our
own ideas of holiness or uncleanliness onto
simpler societies
 Anything that is the object of a ritual avoidance or
taboo has ritual value
 The ritual value is exhibited in the behavior adopted
towards the object
 A society consists of a number of individuals bound
together in a network of social relations.
 The first necessary condition of the existence of a
society is that the individual members shall agree in
some measure in the values that they recognize.
 A society is characterized by a set of values
 Simple Society- There is a fair amount of agreement
amongst group members, but the agreement is never
absolute
 Complex Society- There is much more disagreement if
we consider the society as a whole, but there is a closer
measure of agreement among members of groups or
classes within the society.
 When two or more persons share a common interest, they
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form an association, whether for a moment or for a long
period.
Subject 1 and Subject 2 are both interested in the same way
in the Object, and both Subjects are interested in each
other in some way.
The Object has social value for both Subjects involved.
In some groups, each member is an object of interest for all
others, and each member has social value for the group as a
whole.
Groups can be formed by common interest or common
enemy.
 Ritual- n- an established or prescribed procedure for a
religious reason or other rite.
 Ritual values exist in every known society, and show an
immense diversity.
 Sports rituals
 Catholic Sacrament
 Maori Haka dance
 This answer is difficult to find
 What is fundamentally the same rite in two different
societies may have different purposes or reasons in
each society.
 Members of the community may be unsure of the
reason for the ritual, or they may give varying
explanations.
 People always know the meaning of their own
symbols, but they do so intuitively and can rarely
express their understanding in words
 Study rites by studying the effects the rites produce, not the
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effects they are supposed to produce.
A rite has immediate psychological effects on the people
participating.
It also effects the social structure of the community.
The immediate psychological effects can be observed by
watching and talking to the performers of the ritual.
Many rites produce individual satisfaction for the
performers.
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Amazon suicide ritual
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www.youtube.com/watch?v=ak5GichjaCM&feature=player_detailpage#t=110s
 During Childbirth rituals, Death rituals,
Coming of Age rituals, and Wedding rituals.
 Avoid names of individuals involved
 Avoid certain foods
 The personal name is a symbol of social personality
 Avoiding the name symbolizes a change in social
personality
 They avoid certain foods because they believe they will
be ill otherwise.
 Andamanese in all of these different life states are in
abnormal ritual status.
 Theory 1:
 In certain circumstances an individual is anxious about
the outcome of some event or activity because it
depends on conditions out of their control
 People observe some rite or ritual to reassure them
because the ritual is thought to bring them good luck.
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&list=UU3zJwLLuprpxqCu9MHzuuA&v=wPCwy-bXc0g#t=65s
 Theory 2:
 If it were not for the existence of the rite and the beliefs
associated with it, the individuals would feel no anxiety,
and that the psychological effect of the rite is to create a
sense of insecurity and danger.
 People are conditioned by the community in which
they live.
 The sharing of hopes and fears links human beings
together in temporary or permanent associations.
 The simplest form of ritual sanction is an accepted
belief that if rules of ritual are not observed some
undefined misfortune is likely to occur.
 A new father is naturally anxious at the outcome of
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childbirth because he has no control
Childbirth is dangerous, especially in tribal cultures
He observes taboo and participates in rituals to feel as
if he has some type of control.
He avoids certain foods to improve his luck.
He eases his own anxiety through rituals.
 The primary basis of all ritual is the attribution of
ritual value to objects and occasions which are either
themselves objects of important common interests
linking together the persons of a community .
 Negative and positive rites exist and persist because
they are part of the mechanism by which an orderly
society maintains itself in existence, serving as they do
to establish fundamental social values.
 Taboo is used to apply social value to certain actions,
events, and concepts.
 Taboo symbolizes what the society values
 Taboo
 Consuming the flesh of the dead
 Rituals
 Equated eating the flesh to Holy Communion
 Nightly Rosary
 Used their prayer ritual to calm their fears and renew hope
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=LYmE0_ZvbrQ#t=421s

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