A taboo is an explicit prohibition against doing something based on cultural sensibility. The object is perceived to be overly repulsive or sacred and is only permitted by specific groups of people. In virtually every society, there are taboos, some of which are explicit and are even forbidden by custom and religion. Here are a few examples of taboos:
Menstruation is a taboo in India
The taboo around menstruation is rooted in the Hindu mythological text, Rig Veda. According to this text, an evil being named Vritra withheld water from people and was the demon of droughts. The king of gods, Indra, killed this demon with a thunderbolt, ensuring future prosperity. Indra also says that the mind of a woman does not brook discipline, which led to a taboo against menstruation in India.
The stigma associated with menstruation inhibits female growth. In rural areas, women on their periods are forbidden from working or participating in daily activities. Even sanitary napkins are covered in newspaper or brown paper bags to avoid public shame. In addition, menstruating women cannot wash the cloth, so they must use rags or ashes to make sanitary pads. In many places, girls often skip school because of the lack of toilets in their schools. In Goa, two-thirds of girls drop out of school when they hit puberty. In rural areas, there are no separate female toilets at school.
Alcohol consumption is taboo in South Africa
The alcohol industry is a major contributor to South Africa’s drinking problem. While it does not condone irresponsible drinking, it is a significant ally in shaping the regulations around alcohol. Alcohol industry profits are fueled by high-risk drinking. Ultimately, this leads to a problem that can be solved only through upstream measures. The South African government is presently considering amending the liquor products act with provisions that aim to reduce alcohol consumption in South Africa.
The health effects of alcohol consumption are well known. Among children and young adults, alcohol is associated with increased risk for multiple health conditions. Alcohol consumption is associated with risky sexual behaviours, including unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In particular, alcohol consumption increases the risk of HPV, a major threat to women in the Region. Alcohol consumption increases the risk for cancer in various body systems, including the liver, colon, breast, and throat.
Menstruating in Papua New Guinea
In many cultures, men are forbidden from being near women who are menstruating. In PNG, men are not allowed to be near women during their period, and they are not even allowed to share food with them during that time. Women are often denied access to menstrual products and sanitation facilities. This lack of access leads to period poverty and gender inequality. Education about menstruation is not always available. It depends on the teachers’ level of comfort, and teachers’ attitudes about menstruation reinforce these beliefs.
The country has a history of taboos around menstruation. Women and girls often face stigma and teasing from peers and even family members. The stigma associated with menstruation has a negative effect on girls’ education and participation in the local community. Many girls report not participating in school activities because they fear their friends will see their blood. Many girls stay at home during their periods, and some even burn their menstrual products to avoid being teased.
Predatory fish is taboo in Brazil
Brazilians are not accustomed to eating predatory fish. They consider these fish taboo. This is because of the belief that they can kill slaves. Besides piranhas, these fish are also known as bottom feeders. While it’s not against the law in Brazil, consuming predatory fish can lead to ill health, which is why omnivorous fish is preferred. Chinese people have another taboo: they are not supposed to stick their chopsticks into the rice of a restaurant, as it is believed to curse the restaurant.
The research team interviewed fishermen in 18 communities along four Amazonian rivers, and they observed them on fishing trips. They noted what fish they ate and what medicinal uses they had. They also noted which fish were taboo. The research team found that some species, including piranha, are taboo, and these include rays, tuna, and sea catfish. The study also found that fish that feed on plant matter are also taboo.
Food taboos in Papua New Guinea
The author of this dissertation studied food tabos and entomophagic practices of the Papua Niugini people. He visited various villages and homesteads to gather information about these taboos. Food taboos in Papua New Guinea have a variety of origins. Some are based on tradition, while others are based on psychosocial factors. For example, a pregnant woman should not eat red fruit or bananas, and men are not allowed to engage in sexual intercourse with women who have eaten taboo foods.
Many of these food tabos are based on the traditional beliefs of locals. In Papua New Guinea, for example, consuming snails may weaken a warrior’s strength. Similarly, eating legendaries (such as wolves) is taboo. Legendary animals were considered important for their role in intertribal wars and helped protect the tribe. Other tabos relate to eating partridge, bush fowl, water reptiles, and porcupine. Some people do not eat beans, as they can cause stomach problems.