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(Continued from front of jacket) 
to exhibit the momentous role which these 
prohibitions have played in human socie- 
ties. He has filled a gap in the literature of 
social anthropology by a comprehensive 
treatment of taboo as a phenomenon of 
wide prevalence. 

The ethnographical, historical, and psy- 
chological approaches to the study have 
not been neglected, but the author's main 
purpose is to show how important a place 
taboos hold in the cultural evolution of 
mankind. 



THE AUTHOR 

Dr. Webster took his A.B. at Stanford 
in 1896 and his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1904. 
He was Professor of Social Anthropology 
at the University of Nebraska from 1907 to 
1929 and a Lecturer in Sociology at Stan- 
ford since 1932, now emeritus. Among his 
many books are History of Civilization, 
Primitive Secret Societies, and Rest Days. 



BY THE SAME AUTHOR 

Primitive Secret Societies: A Study in Early 

Politics and Religion (The Macmillan Company, 

New York, 1908; Japanese translation, 1916; 

Italian translation, 1920; second edition, 

revised, 1932) 

Rest Days: A Study in Early Law and Morality 

(The Macmillan Company, New York, 1916). 

Out of print. 



TA^OO 

A ^Sociological Otudy 



By 
HUTTON WEBSTER, PH.D. 

Sometime Professor of Social Anthropology 

University of Nebraska 
Lecturer in Sociology ^ Stanford University 



STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 

Stanford University, California 

HUMPHREY MILFORD :: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 

London 



STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 
STANFORD UNIVERSITY, CALIFORNIA 

LONDON: HUMPHREY MILFORD 
OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 

THE BAKER AND TAYLOR COMPANY 
55 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK 

COPYRIGHT 1942 BY THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES 
OF THE LELAND STANFORD JUNIOR UNIVERSITY 

PRINTED AND BOUND IN THE UNITED STATES 
OF AMERICA BY STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS 



===== TO ===== 

MY CHILDREN 



"The field covered by taboos among savage 
and half -savage races is very wide, for there is 
no part of life in which the savage does not feel 
himself to be surrounded by mysterious agen- 
cies and recognize the need of walking warily." 
W. ROBERTSON SMITH 

"Le passage du tabou a Tinterdiction moti- 
vee, raisonnee, raisonnable, c'est presque This- 
toire des progres de Tesprit humain." 

SALOMON REINACH 



PREFACE 

THE word "taboo" (Polynesian tabu) entered English speech 
from Captain Cook's fascinating narrative of his third and last 
voyage to the island world of the Pacific. In 1888 James George 
Frazer contributed to the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Bri- 
tannica a brief article dealing with the system of taboo, especially 
in Polynesia, its peculiar home. Noteworthy contributions to our 
knowledge of the subject have since been jnade by Frazer himself 
and by other students of primitive magic and religion. It now 
seems possible to fill a gap in the literature of social anthropology 
by a comprehensive treatment of taboo as a phenomenon of wide 
prevalence. 

The present work brings together much trustworthy evidence, 
but makes no pretense to exhaustiveness. Indeed, a compilation 
of encyclopedic proportions would be required to set forth fully 
the materials that have been gathered among primitive or pre- 
literate peoples alone. Were the investigation extended to peoples 
of archaic civilization, still more volumes would be necessary. In 
order to guide the reader to further sources of information, I 
have regularly included references to other works where particu- 
lar taboos have been assembled and described. 

An inquiry of this sort might be conducted along various lines: 
ethnographically, by an effort to trace the diffusion of taboos; 
or historically, by a search for the contacts between peoples which 
may explain this diffusion ; or psychologically, by the attempt to 
formulate the ideas underlying the systejn of taboo in its many 
ramifications. I have not wholly neglected these various ap- 
proaches to the subject, but my main concern has been to show 
or try to show how important a place taboos hold in the cultural 
evolution of mankind. 

Taboos form a specific series of thou-shalt-nots. They are 
not to be confused (as in popular usage) with social conventions 
and regulations of a negative sort, conventions and regulations 
without an obvious utility. They are to be distinguished from 
restrictions resting on the vague notion of unluckiness which 
attaches to certain acts or things or times, restrictions found in 
the lower culture and, under the attenuated form of a survival, 



VII 



via TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

lingering among ourselves. More important still, there are in- 
numerable prohibitions, both animistic and non-animistic in char- 
acter, which must likewise be excluded from the conception of 
taboo if this is to possess any scientific validity and retain a 
place in ethnological theory. Taboos are prohibitions which, 
when violated, produce automatically in the offender a state of 
ritual disability "taboo sickness" only relieved, when relief is 
possible, by a ceremony of purification. To this definition I have 
steadfastly adhered. 

The customs considered here are mostly of unknown origin 
and of unknown antiquity. Many of them, particularly those re- 
lating to reproduction, death, and the dead, must be very old, reach- 
ing back into the childhood of the race. Though often fantastic and 
absurd and sometimes lewd and cruel, they are, nevertheless, the 
most imperative of primitive observances, those to which the sav- 
age accords the most implicit obedience. To study them is to gain 
some comprehension of social evolution through unnumbered cen- 
turies ; it is to open a window into man's dim and distant past. 

HUTTON WEBSTER 
MENLO PARK, CALIFORNIA 
July, 1942 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

The author acknowledges with hearty thanks the permission 
granted to him by publishers in England and the United States 
(Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, Macmil- 
lan and Co., Ltd., Seeley, Service and Co., Ltd., H. F. and G. 
Witherby, Christophers, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 
Harper and Brothers, Charles Scribner's Sons, and the Hartford 
Seminary Press) to make numerous quotations from their books. 

H. W. 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER I 

NATURE OF TABOO 

Social and extra-social sanctions for human conduct; taboos, 
1, 2. The taboo system in Polynesia, 2-7. Taboos distin- 
guished from animistic and sympathetic prohibitions, 7, 8. 
Factors in taboo-making: dreams, visions, and untoward 
events, 9, 10. Coincidental experiences as confirming taboos, 
10-13. Origin and multiplication of taboos, 13-15. Mystic 
dangerousness and occult power, 15-17. Authority of ta- 
boos, 17, 18. Consequences of taboo-breaking, 18-20. Sick- 
ness as the punishment for violation of taboos, 20-22. Treat- 
ment of the sick, 22-24. Death as the punishment for 
violation of taboos, 24-26. Treatment of those who die a 
"bad death," 26-28. Taboos, curses, oaths, and vows, 28. 
Individual and social taboos, 28, 29. Inherent, imposed, and 
acquired taboos, 29, 30. Imposition of taboos by tribal eld- 
ers, secret societies, chiefs, and priests, 30-33. Taboo signs, 
33. Duration of taboos, 33, 34. The rite of desacralization, 
34, 35. Purificatory rites, 35-39. Notes to chapter i, 39-48. 



CHAPTER II 

THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 49 

Pregnancy regulations, 49-52. Restrictions observed by the 
husband of a pregnant woman, 52. Sexual intercourse usu- 
ally forbidden but sometimes required during a wife's preg- 
nancy, 52, 53. Seclusion of a pregnant woman, 53, 54. Se- 
clusion of a parturient woman, 54-56. Communal taboos 
observed after a birth, 56, 57. Treatment of a woman who 
has miscarried or been delivered of a stillborn child, 57-59. 
Treatment of deformed children and of those with some 
striking abnormality, 59-61. Twins and the mothers of twins 
tabooed, 61-65. Twins sometimes regarded as auspicious, 
65-67. Sexual intercourse after a wife's confinement, 67- 
70. Taboos imposed upon a puerperal woman until her puri- 
fication, 7(X-76. .Purification of her child, 76-78. Taboos 
observed by her husband, 78-81. Uncleanness of menstru- 
ous women, 82-88. Seclusion and purification of menstruous 
women, especially of pubescent girls, 88-93. Initiation of 
boys at puberty, 93-95. Notes to chapter ii, 95-109. 

ix 



x TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

CHAPTER III 

FAGB 

SEPARATION OF THE SEXES 110 

Permanent uncleanness of women, 110. Sexual separation in 
eating; commensal taboos, 110-12. Men's clubhouses, 112. 
Division of occupations between the sexes, 112-15. Secu- 
lar restrictions imposed upon women, 115-17. Dietary dis- 
abilities of women, 117, 118. Religious restrictions imposed 
upon women, 119-21. Notes to chapter iii, 121-28. 

CHAPTER IV 

SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 129 

Sexual intercourse regarded as polluting, 129-32. Taboos of 
sexual intercourse on critical occasions, 132-39. Illicit sexual 
relations; adultery, 139-46. Fornication, 146-48. Incest, 148- 
52. Rules of avoidance, 152-55. Taboos affecting newly mar- 
ried couples, 155-57. Notes to chapter iv, 157-66. 

CHAPTER V 

DEATH AND THE DEAD 167 

The pollution of death, 167. Precautions and avoidances in re- 
spect to the moribund, 167-69. Precautions and avoidances in 
respect to the dead, 169-72. Desertion of a settlement where a 
death has occurred, 172-74. Abandonment or destruction of a 
house in which a death has occurred, 174-77. Goods and chat- 
tels of the dead abandoned or destroyed, 177-84. Avoidance of 
the names of the dead, 184-87. Rest days after a death, 187-89. 
Taboos observed by undertakers and gravediggers, by the 
relatives of the deceased, and by other mourners, 189-96. Ta- 
boos observed by widows and widowers, 196-202. Private man- 
slayers tabooed, 202-7. Executioners tabooed, 207. Warriors 
tabooed, 208-13. Notes to chapter v, 214-29. 

CHAPTER VI 

STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA . . 230 

Taboos of strangers, 230-33. Purification of strangers and 
of returning travelers, 233-35. Strange lands tabooed, 235. 
Strange, unfamiliar, and new objects tabooed, 236, 237. Con- 
servatism of the savage, 237, 238. Taboos which relate to 
strange or terrifying aspects of nature, 238, 239. Thunder and 
lightning taboos, 239-43. Lunar taboos: eclipses, 243. The 
interlunium, 243, 244. Phases of the moon, 244-46. Taboos 
imposing communal abstinence and quiescence on critical occa- 
. sions, 246-52. Notes to chapter vi, 253-60. 



CONTENTS XI 

CHAPTER VII 

PAGE 

SACRED PERSONS - 261 

Sacred persons, 261-63. Taboos affecting chiefs and kings, 
263-70. Taboos affecting magicians, priests, and secret society 
officials, 270-73. Celibacy of sacred men and women, 273, 274. 
Laymen sometimes sacrosanct, 275. Sanctity of secret society 
initiates, 275. Ceremonies of consecration, 275, 276. Notes to 
chapter vii, 276-79. 

CHAPTER VIII 

SACRED THINGS 280 

Sacred places, sepulchers, and temples, 280-83. The right of 
sanctuary, 283-86. Cult ic objects sacred, 286-92. Sacredness 
ascribed to non-cultic objects, 292, 293. Sacred animals, 293, 
294. Sacred times, 294-97. Sacred numbers; seven, 297, 298. 
Sacred rites, formulas, and myths, 298-300. Names of sacred 
persons tabooed, 300, 301. Names of spirits and gods tabooed, 
301, 302. Euphemisms, 302. Taboo languages, 303. Notes to 
chapter viii, 304-10. 

CHAPTER IX 

SIN AND RITUAL DEFILEMENT 311 

Public confession of sins, 311. Examples of public confession, 
311-15. The primitive conception of sin, 315. Examples, 315- 
18. Notes to chapter ix, 319-21. 

CHAPTER X 

ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 322 

Food restrictions in general, 322. Food restrictions observed by 
young people among the aborigines of Australia, 322, 323. To- 
temic food restrictions in Australia, 323-25. Food restrictions 
in connection with the cult of guardian spirits, 325, 326. Food 
restrictions pertaining to individuals, families, and social groups 
and classes, 326-32. Avoidance of certain foods, especially fish, 
swine, poultry, eggs, and milk, 332-36. Prohibitions relating to 
the preparation and eating of food, 336-38. Closed seasons for 
food plants and animals, 338-42. Ceremonies of first-fruits, 
342, 343. Taboos of private property, 344. Evidence for ta- 
boos of private property : in Australia and the islands of Torres 
Straits, 344; in New Guinea, 344, 345; in the D'Entrecasteaux 
Islands, 345, 346; among the Melanesians, 346, 347; among the 
Polynesians, 347-49; among the Indonesians, 349, 350; in the 
Nicobar Islands and Ceylon, 350; in Madagascar, 350; through- 



xii TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

PAGE 

out Negro Africa, 350-52; among- the Negroes of Surinam, the 
Caribs, and some South American Indians, 352. Economic in- 
fluence of taboos of private property, 353. Notes to chapter x, 
353-65. 

CHAPTER XI 

SOCIAL ASPECTS OF TABOO 366 

Abolition of taboos in Polynesia, 366-69. Elimination of taboos 
by civilized peoples, 369, 370. Taboo and religion, 370, 371. 
Taboo and morality, 371, 372. Taboo and civil law, 372, 373. 
Salutary restraints of a taboo system, 373, 374. Disintegra- 
tion of a taboo system as the result of European influence, 374, 
375. Introduction of new taboos following contact with Euro- 
peans, 375, 376. Taboos sometimes deliberately violated, 376- 
78. The role of taboo in primitive society, 378. Notes to chap- 
ter xi, 378-81. 

INDEX 383 



CHAPTER I 
NATURE OF TABOO 



THE unfettered, uninhibited savage, described by the romanti- 
cists of the eighteenth century, is as fictitious as the Golden Age 
itself. The savage, rather, is bound hand and foot by custom, 
especially negative custom. Thou-shalt-nots surround him from 
the cradle to the grave. He must entertain no thought, express 
no feeling, and perform no deed which runs counter to the general 
will. How slowly and with how many setbacks have men any- 
where achieved some measure of personal independence, some 
freedom to think, feel, and act for themselves and not for the herd! 

The English jurist, John Austin, developing ideas ultimately 
derived from the seventeenth-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, 
made familiar the conception of law as a rule prescribed by the 
sovereign to his subjects, whether the sovereign be one man to 
whom obedience is given or a group of men who possess su- 
preme power. The Austinian conception of "positive" law has 
no application, of course, to rude societies, whose binding cus- 
toms are responses to community needs rather than commands 
laid down in an arbitrary way by some superior authority. The 
group, or at least its dominant members, reacts favorably or un- 
favorably toward certain modes of behavior, which thereby be- 
come approved or disapproved. The outcome is the formation 
of standards of belief and conduct. A minor departure from the 
norm will then meet some degree of reprobation, while the most 
serious offenses, such as witchcraft and incest, will often be 
punished directly by a sort of "lynch law" or indirectly by recog- 
nized judicial authorities. These are social sanctions. 

There are also extra-social sanctions. A transgressor of ac- 
cepted usages may be supposed to kindle the anger of spiritual 
beings and, unless appeasement is made, to suffer some punish- 
ment at their hands in this world or in the next. Prohibitions 
resting on such a personal sanction are animistic in character. He 
may also be supposed to call down upon himself some inevitable 
punishment in the shape of evils inextricably bound up with the 



L TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

violation, just as, in the physical world, fire burns, water drowns, 
and poison kills. Innumerable restrictions relating to certain foods 
may be thus explained : in Madagascar a soldier will not eat the 
knee of an ox, lest like an ox he should become weak-kneed and 
unable to march, nor will he partake of kidneys because in the 
Malagasy language the word for kidney is the same as that for 
"shot," so shot he would be if he consumed this delicacy. No hint 
can be found in such restrictions of punitive action by any agent : 
the commission of the forbidden act itself begets the penalty. 
For us the causal connection between deed and aftermath of deed 
is imaginary; for the savage the connection is as real as are the 
spiritual beings of whose presence and activity he is so certain. 
Prohibitions with such an impersonal sanction are sympathetic 
in character, because they rest on the assumption that things 
which bear a likeness to each other can affect each other at a 
distance, through a secret sympathy. Finally, there are prohibi- 
tions, likewise impersonal as to their sanction, but supported by 
the belief that their infraction will result automatically in a most 
serious condition for the culprit, who becomes "tabooed" or in a 
"state of taboo" a condition of ritual disability dangerous to 
himself and often to others as well. Unless he can be relieved 
by appropriate measures and these are not always efficacious 
a great misfortune will befall him and possibly his fellows. The 
evil to come is sometimes represented as sickness, disease, or death 
and sometimes, again, it is but vaguely imagined. Whatever the 
consequences of violation, agreement is general that they are real 
and that they may be dreadful. Only prohibitions of this nature 
are properly described as taboos. 1 

"Taboo," from the Polynesian tabu, is one of the few words 
which the languages of the Pacific Islanders have contributed to 
modern speech. In English it is used indifferently as noun, adjec- 
tive, participle, or verb: a "taboo" is a prohibition; an object 
"taboo" or "tabooed" is an object under a prohibition; "to taboo" 
is to put under a prohibition. The Polynesian word had only an 
adjectival significance, and the substantive and verbal forms were 
expressed by derivative words and phrases. Tabu seems to be 
properly the Tongan word; tapu the term found in Samoa, the 
Marquesas Islands, the Society Islands, and New Zealand; and 
kapu the Hawaiian expression. 2 Tapu has been derived from ta, 
to mark, and pu, an adverb of intensity. "The compound word 
tapu, therefore, means no more than 'marked thoroughly/ and 
only came to signify sacred or prohibited in a secondary sense; 



NATURE OF TABOO 3 

because sacred things and places were commonly marked in a 
peculiar manner, in order that every one might know that they 
were sacred." 8 According to another derivation, tapu is from 
the name of the conch shell, pu f and ta, which means to strike as 
well as to mark, and is also used as a causative prefix. "In the 
old order when a chief announced a ceremonial restriction by 
blowing his conch shell, it may have been described by the com- 
pound word ta-pu." 4 Such etymologies and others like them are 
discredited by the fact that the word tapu or tabu, together with 
the customs and beliefs which it denotes, is traceable widely in the 
Pacific area. 5 

As an English word, "taboo" was made familiar by Captain 
James Cook in the narrative of his third and last voyage around 
the world. 6 He reached the Tonga or Friendly Islands in 1777, 
and at Tongatabu entertained on shipboard several superior and 
inferior chiefs. When dinner was served, not one of them would 
sit down or eat anything provided. "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." Sometime later, observing that two women of a 
company at supper were being fed by others, he learned that they 
were taboo mattee. It seems that one of them, two months before, 
had washed the corpse of a chief and consequently might not 
handle any food for five months. The other, having performed 
the same office for the corpse of a person of inferior rank, was 
also under the same restriction, but not for so long a time. Dur- 
ing his stay at Tongatabu Cook was fortunate enough to witness 
a certain ceremony in honor of the king's son. The king re- 
quested Cook not to allow his sailors to stir from the ship, "for, 
as everything would, very soon, be taboo, if any of our people, or 
of their own, should be found walking about, they would be 
knocked down with clubs; nay mateed, that is, killed." No infor- 
mation as to the meaning of the ceremony was vouchsafed by the 
natives. "We seldom got any other answer to our inquiries, but 
taboo; a word, which, I have before observed, is applied to many 
other things." 

Human sacrifices were called tangata taboo t "and when any- 
thing is forbidden to be eat, or made use of, they say, that it is 
taboo." Cook later found this word used in the Society Islands 
(Tahiti), but only with reference to the consecrated man offered 
as a sacrifice. He found it also in the Sandwich Islands, where 
negative regulations of one sort or another seemed to be very 



4 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

strictly observed. "For the people here always asked, with great 
eagerness and signs of fear to offend, whether any particular 
thing which they desired to see, or we were unwilling to show, 
was taboo, or, as they pronounced the word, tafoo" 

Captain James King, who in 1779 succeeded to the command 
after Cook's death and continued the narrative of the voyage, 
also makes reference to taboo among the Sandwich Islanders. 
He states that the word could be applied to both persons and things 
and that it was also used to denote anything "sacred, or eminent, 
or devoted." King was impressed by the "most implicit and 
scrupulous obedience" of the natives in regard to the prohibitions 
laid upon them, but he could not decide whether this was on any 
principle of religion or merely in deference to the civil authority 
of their chiefs. Elsewhere, however, he describes taboo as a kind 
of "religious interdiction." 

Cook and the other famous navigators who opened up the 
island world of the Pacific were soon followed by the missionaries, 
and in 1795 the (London) Missionary Society was formed "to 
disseminate the light of divine truth over all the dark regions of 
the earth." One of the ablest and most useful of the men whom 
it sent to the South Seas was William Ellis. He lived for eight 
years (1816-1824) in the Society and Sandwich or Hawaiian 
Islands, and after his return to England published in 1829 his 
Polynesian Researches. It is an extensive work of lasting value. 

The account which Ellis 7 gives of the Polynesian tabu system 
relates particularly to the Hawaiian group. 

"In most of the Polynesian dialects, the usual meaning of the 
word tabu is 'sacred/ It does not, however, imply any moral 
quality, but expresses a connection with the gods, or a separation 
from ordinary purposes, and exclusive appropriation to persons 
or things considered sacred ; sometimes it means devoted as by a 
vow. Those chiefs who trace their genealogy to the gods are 
called arii tabu, chiefs sacred, from their supposed connection with 
the gods ; and a temple is called a wahi iabu, place sacred, because 
devoted exclusively to the abode and worship of the gods. It is 
a distinct word from rahui, to prohibit .... and is opposed to 
the word noa, which means general or common This ap- 
pears to be the legitimate meaning of the word tabu, though the 
natives, when talking with foreigners, use it more extensively, 
applying it to everything prohibited or improper . . . , 8 

"Although employed for civil as well as sacred purposes, the 
tabu was entirely a religious ceremony, and could be imposed 



NATURE OF TABOO 5 

only by the priests. A religious motive was always assigned for 
laying it on, though it was often done at the instance of the civil 
authorities; and persons called kiaimoku, island keepers, a kind 
of police officers, were always appointed by the king to see that the 
tabu was strictly observed. 

"The antiquity of the tabu was equal to the other branches of 
that superstition of which it formed so component a part, and its 
application was both general and particular, occasional and perma- 
nent. The idols, temples, persons, and names of the king, and 
members of the reigning family ; the persons of the priests ; canoes 
belonging to the gods ; houses, clothes, and mats of the king and 
priests; and the heads of men who were the devotees of any 
particular idol were always tabu, or sacred. The flesh of hogs, 
fowls, turtle, and several other kinds of fish, cocoanuts, and almost 
everything offered in sacrifice, were tabu to the use of the gods 
and the men; hence the women were, except in cases of particular 
indulgence, restricted from using them. Particular places, as those 
frequented by the king for bathing, were also rendered perma- 
nently tabu. Sometimes an island or a district was tabued, when 
no canoe or person was allowed to approach it. Particular fruits, 
animals, and the fish of certain places were occasionally tabu for 
several months from both men and women. The seasons kept 
tabu were: on the approach of some great religious ceremony; 
immediately before going to war; and during the sickness of 
chiefs. Their duration was various, and much longer in ancient 

than in modern times Before the reign of Tamehameha, 

forty days was the usual period ; during it, ten or five days, and 
sometimes only one day. In this respect, the tabus, or seasons of 
restriction, in Hawaii, appear to have exceeded those of the South 

Sea Islands The tabu seasons were either common or strict. 

During a common tabu, the men were only required to abstain 
from their usual avocations, and attend at the heiau when the 
prayers were offered every morning and evening. But, during the 
season of strict tabu, every fire and light on the island or district 
must be extinguished; no canoe must be launched on the water, 
no person must bathe; and, except those whose attendance was 
required at the temple, no individual must be seen out of doors ; 
no dog must bark, no pig must grunt, no cock must crow or the 
tabu would be broken and fail to accomplish the object desired. 
On these occasions, they tied up the ftiouths of the dogs and 
pigs, and put the fowls under a calabash, or fastened a piece of 
cloth over their eyes. All the common people prostrated them- 



o TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

selves, with their faces touching the ground, before the sacred 
chiefs, when they walked out, particularly during tabu; and 
neither the king nor the priests were allowed to touch anything 
even their food was put into their mouths by another person. The 
tabu was imposed either by proclamation, when the crier or herald 
of the priests went round, generally in the evening, requiring 
every light to be extinguished, the path by the sea to be left for 
the king, the paths inland to be left for the gods, etc. The people, 
however, were generally prepared, having had previous warning, 
though this was not always the case. Sometimes it was laid on 
by fixing certain marks called unu unu, the purport of which was 
well understood, on the places or thing tabued .... The pro- 
hibitions and requisitions of the tabu were strictly enforced, and 
every breach of them punished with death, unless the delinquents 
had some very powerful friends who were either priests or chiefs. 
They were generally offered in sacrifices, strangled, or despatched 
with a club or a stone within the precincts of the heiau, or they 
were burnt . . . . 9 

"An institution so universal in its influence and so inflexible 
in its demands contributed very materially to the bondage and 
oppression of the natives in general. The king, sacred chiefs, and 
priests appear to have been the only persons to whom its applica- 
cation was easy; the great mass of the people were at no period 
of their existence exempt from its influence, and no circumstance 
in life could excuse their obedience to its demands. The females, 
in particular, felt all its humiliating and degrading force. From 
its birth, the child, if a female, was not allowed to be fed with a 
particle of food that had been kept in the father's dish, or cooked 
at his fire ; and the little boy, after being weaned, was fed with 
his father's food, and, as soon as he was able, sat down to meals 
with his father, while his mother was not only obliged to take 
hers in an outhouse, but was interdicted from tasting the kind 
of which he ate. It is not surprising that the abolition of the 
tabu, effecting for them an emancipation so complete, and an 
amelioration so important, should be a subject of constant con- 
gratulation ; and that every circumstance tending, in the smallest 
degree, to revive the former tabu should be viewed with the most 
distressing apprehensions. The only tabu they now have is the 
Sabbath, which they call the La tabu (day sacred), and to its 
extension and perpetuity those who understand it seem to have 
no objection." 

Thus far our excellent missionary. He shows very clearly 



NATURE OF TABOO 7 

that the tabu system played a great part in the life of the Poly- 
nesian peoples. It readily united with priestcraft and statecraft 
and so became, in the hands of the ruling classes, an instrumentum 
regni, a powerful engine of political and social control. It was 
the chief prop of a society organized on theocratic lines. 

Ellis regarded the taboo system as peculiar to the natives of 
the South Seas. Anthropological research has disclosed, how- 
ever, the presence of comparable ideas and customs among many 
other primitive peoples and even among those of archaic civili- 
zation, so that "taboo" is now a category of almost world-wide 
application. 

Taboos should not be confused with those animistic prohibi- 
tions imposed by many an early lawgiver and inserted by the 
side of positive regulations in the elaborate codes of morality and 
religion which have descended to us from the ancient world. 
Of the Ten Commandments, for instance, eight are expressed 
negatively, but as we now have them they are not taboos; they 
are the injunctions of a deity. Animistic prohibitions, while 
naturally most numerous in such collections as the Laws of Manu, 
the Avesta, and the Mosaic code, are by no means unknown to 
preliterate peoples. However, taboos have often been incorporated 
in a religious system, ascribed to a spiritual being, and supported 
by an appeal to divine authority. This was the situation in Poly- 
nesia, where, as Ellis remarks, tabu expressed "a connection with 
the gods." 10 The ancient Hindu, Persian, and Hebrew codes 
likewise abound in negative regulations which, though professedly 
revealed by a god, betray a manifest likeness to the ordinances 
of the lowliest savages. The problem then becomes one of getting 
behind the animistic prohibition to the original taboo. 

On the other hand, not all prohibitions whose violation is said 
to be punished by a spiritual being are animistic in character. By 
the savage, "spirits" are frequently thought of as impersonal 
rather than personal, and some are regarded as merely vague 
influences resident in all extraordinary objects which fix his at- 
tention and excite his fears. The role of such spirits in adminis- 
tering punishment for a violated prohibition is often quite arbi- 
trary; they have no initiative as penal powers; their anger is 
automatically aroused against an offender; and they cannot be 
appeased by prayer or sacrifice. When the consequences of viola- 
tion are represented in this way, we are dealing with taboos and 
not with animistic prohibitions. 11 

Nor should taboos be confused with sympathetic prohibitions, 



8 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

with the innumerable precautions and prejudices finding an ex- 
planation in analogical reasoning of every sort. The Paraguay In- 
dian who abstains from eating the flesh of deer, lest it should 
make him timid, but who prizes the flesh of jaguars to increase 
his strength and boldness assumes very simply that the qualities 
of the eaten pass into the eater. The Eskimo lad who will not 
play cat's cradle, lest in later life his fingers might become en- 
tangled in the harpoon-line, acts on the same principle like begets 
like as the Bornean woman who, while her husband is on the 
warpath, takes care to cook and scatter popcorn on the verandah 
early each morning so that his movements may be agile. This 
vast field of anthropological research, so fully explored by Sir 
James George Frazer in The Golden Bough, has, indeed, a Janus- 
like aspect, and for the student who seeks to understand primitive 
mentality its negative precepts deserve perhaps as much attention 
as its positive injunctions. 

The principal varieties of sympathetic prohibitions include 
many pregnancy and puerperal restrictions; most cases of cou- 
vade, or "man childbed" ; certain rules of abstinence observed 
by hunters, fishers, and warriors when absent from home and by 
the relatives and friends whom they have left behind; various 
dietary regulations of a negative character; many name avoid- 
ances; and avoidance customs generally. Prohibitions of this 
nature have played little or no part in the creation or evolution 
of social institutions. 

Primitive man, that "frail phantom and waif" in an un- 
friendly world, lives beset by fears of every kind. His fears are 
often the product of a lively imagination and of an abysmal 
ignorance. They make anything potentially dangerous and so 
prompt him to avoidances, which, in their simplest forms, are 
almost as instinctive as those of the lower animals. When com- 
munity ties become more closely drawn and habits harden into 
customs, avoidances pass into prohibitions, into the forbiddance 
of whatever seems to be injurious immtdiately to the individual 
and mediately to the group of which he forms a part. If the 
objects, activities, and situations covered by the prohibition are 
truly baneful, then it satisfies what we are pleased to call common 
sense. It is a precept of utility. If the prohibition relates to 
what is not really injurious, it is for us a "superstition." To the 
savage, however, all his prohibitions rest on a common ground 
of usefulness. They are all in accordance with experience. They 
are not irrational. Reasons for them have always existed even if 



NATURE OF TABOO 9 

the savage himself cannot now account for them and the civilized 
inquirer cannot fathom the emotions and ideas on which they 
were once based. Who shall interpret the fancies, tricks, and 
childish guesses of the primitive mind? 

It is possible, nevertheless, to suggest some factors operative 
in the creation of specific prohibitions having the character of 
taboos. The influence of creams deserves mention here, for, to 
the savage, dreams are as real as any of the events of his waking 
life. Ominous dreams, which have produced the whole pseudo- 
science of oneiromancy, may also produce taboos. "All their 
dreams," says an observer of the West African Negroes, "are 
construed into visits from the spirits of their deceased friends. 
The cautions, hints and warnings which come to them through 
this source are received with the most serious and deferential at- 
tention, and are always acted upon in their waking hours. The 
habit of relating their dreams, which is universal, greatly pro- 
motes the habit of dreaming itself, and hence their sleeping hours 
are characterized by almost as much intercourse with the dead as 
their waking are with the living. This is, no doubt, one of the 
reasons of their excessive superstitiousness." 12 

A similar influence should also be ascribed to visions, espe- 
cially those of the medicine man, or magician, whose revelations 
are frequently induced by fasting, the use of stimulants and nar- 
cotic drugs, dancing, and other means of bringing on a state of 
morbid exaltation. The southeastern tribes of Australia, writes 
Mr. Howitt, "universally believe that their deceased ancestors 
and kindred visit them during sleep, and counsel or warn them 
against dangers, or communicate to them song-charms against 
magic. I have known many such cases, and I also know that the 
medicine men see visions that are to them realities. Such a man 
if of great repute in his tribe might readily bring about a social 
change, by announcing to his fellow medicine men a command 

received from some supernatural being If they received it 

favorably, the next step might be to announce it to the assembled 
headmen at one of the ceremonial gatherings as a supernatural 
command, and this would be accepted without question by the 
tribes-people." 13 

The fears and forebodings aroused by mishaps of every sort 
may give rise to taboos. The Chams of Indo-China put a taboo 
(tabun) on a rice plantation if a person or a domestic animal be- 
comes gravely sick after working there. It is necessary, however, 
that the first symptoms of the illness should have manifested them- 



10 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

selves while the person or animal was actually in the plantation. 
A tabooed field will no longer be cultivated, but will be sold at a 
low price to a Christian Annamite. 14 Among the Meithei of Mani- 
pur, if a man falls from a tree and is killed, the elders of his clan 
will gather around the tree and declare it taboo to fellow clansmen. 
Possibly all trees of the same species will be put under the ban. 15 
Among the Pawnee Indians it is said that should a person drink 
at a certain spring just before being taken seriously ill, the spring 
would be "tabooed" henceforth, although it might have been in 
use for years and known to be most excellent water. 16 The Mo- 
have Indians will not eat the meat of the beaver, believing that 
if they did so their necks would swell. "This belief was brought 
about by the circumstance of some one having poisoned beaver 
for their hides, and the Indians who ate of the flesh were poisoned 
and died ; hence they think all beavers are bad." 17 

Once a particular prohibition has come into being, it may 
seemingly be confirmed as the result of coincidental experiences. 

We owe to William Mariner a remarkable account of his life 
in the Tonga Islands during the first decade of the nineteenth 
century. Mariner, a young Englishman of good birth and fair 
education, went to sea in the privateer "Port au Prince." After 
cruising in the Pacific for more than a year, the ship put in at 
one of the Tonga Islands. Here nearly all the crew were mur- 
dered by the natives. Finau, the chief of Vavau, took a great 
fancy to Mariner and gave orders that his life should be spared. 
Mariner lived within the chief's enclosure and from one of the 
latter's wives received instruction in the language and customs 
of the Tonga people. Finau adopted Mariner as his own son and 
admitted him to all his councils. Their friendly and even intimate 
relations continued until Finau's sudden death. The chief of 
Vavau, who seems to have been a man of decidedly rationalistic 
temper, often confided to Mariner his doubts that there were such 
beings as the gods men were fools, he said, to believe what the 
priests told them. He was stricken with a mortal illness at the 
very moment when he had given orders for the killing of an 
influential priest who had offended him. The proposed sacrilege, 
when brought to light after Finau's death, struck everyone with 
consternation. "'No wonder!' (for such was the general ex- 
clamation) 'no wonder that he died! a chief with such dreadful 
intentions !' " 18 

On one of the trails between Tarlac Province and Zambales 
Province in the island of Luzon there is a huge black boulder 



NATURE OF TABOO 11 

which the Negritos believe to be the home of a powerful spirit. 
No Negrito and, in fact, no Christianized native of Zambales or 
Tarlac ever goes by it without leaving a banana, camote, or some 
other article of food. Failure to do so would mean that bad luck 
in one form or another would mark the journey. A Spaniard, 
who afterward became governor of Zambales, once passed the 
rock and, to the horror of his companions, kicked it with his feet, 
and to add insult to injury, he ate part of a banana and threw the 
rest away. The natives were much concerned over the incident; 
they said something terrible would happen to him. Sure enough, 
before he had gone very far he got an arrow through both legs 
from savage Negritos who could have known nothing of the 
occurrence. 19 

The regalia of Malay sovereigns are highly sacrosanct. Great 
danger is supposed to be incurred by one who meddles with these 
insignia of royalty. Among the regalia of the late Sultan of 
Selangor (one of the Federated Malay States) were two drums 
and a long silver trumpet. They were kept in a small, galvanized 
iron cupboard, which stood on posts in the lawn of His Highness* 
garden residence. They had previously been kept in the house, 
but their very uncanny behavior when there was a source of much 
annoyance and anxiety to the inmates. Once one Raja Baka 
accidentally trod upon the wooden barrel of the drums and died in 
consequence of his inadvertence. A hornet's nest having been 
formed inside one of these same drums, a Chinese was ordered 
to remove it, since no Malay would do so. The Chinese, after a 
few days* interval, "swelled up and died." These coincidences 
were related to our informant, Mr. Skeat, by the Sultan himself. 
Mr. Skeat, upon expressing a wish to examine the trumpet and 
the drums, was begged not to do so, for "no one could say what 
would happen." Nevertheless, he did see and even handle them 
in the presence of the Crown Prince. "I thought nothing more 
of the matter at the time, but, what was really a very curious 
coincidence, within a few days' time of the occurrence, I was 
seized with a sharp attack of malarial influenza, the result of 
which was that I was obliged to leave the district, and go into 
hospital at headquarters." 20 The news of what had happened much 
impressed the Malays. 

Dr. Rivers found his research work among the Toda of south- 
ern India much hindered as the result of certain untoward events 
during his stay with the natives. He had been with them for 
about four months when various misfortunes befell some of his 



12 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

chief informants. "One man who had pointed out to me certain 
sacred places fell ill and made up his mind that he was going to 
die. Another man lost his wife a few days after he had shown 
me the method of performing one of the most sacred of Toda 
ceremonies. A third man who had revealed to me the details of 
the ceremonial of the most sacred Toda dairy, suffered the loss 
of his own village dairy by fire. 1 ' The diviners, upon being con- 
sulted, ascribed these events to the anger of the Toda gods whose 
secrets had been revealed to a stranger. 21 

Professor Westermarck once visited a cave in the Great Atlas 
Mountains, the interior of which is said to contain a whole spirit 
city. In the neighborhood of this cave a couple of pigeons were 
shot by his party. Shortly afterward his horse happened to stumble 
and fell upon one of the natives, who was carrying a gun. The 
gun was broken, and the man became lame for several days. Pro- 
fessor Westermarck was told that the accident was caused either 
by the cave spirits or by a saint who has a shrine in the same 
neighborhood, as a punishment for shooting the pigeons. 22 

A Kiowa Indian, a noted warrior and medicine man, at a Sun 
Dance deliberately violated the strict rule forbidding a mirror 
(a part of the toilet equipment of nearly everyone) from being 
brought near the taime, or sacred images, to be exposed to view 
in connection with the ceremony. He also tried unsuccessfully 
to poison his rival, the keeper of the taime, by scraping off the 
mercury from the back of the mirror and mixing it with some 
tobacco which he gave to the priest to smoke. Soon afterward, 
while hunting buffalo, he was thrown from his horse and killed. 
The Indians regarded his death as the speedy punishment for his 
sacrilegious acts. 28 

Another instance of sacrilege occurred among the Omaha In- 
dians, in connection with a buffalo hunt. The Omaha made a 
practice of advancing to the herd by four regular stages, and at 
the close of each stage the director of the hunt and the chiefs 
sat and smoked. This slow approach to the herd and the four 
stops partook of a religious character. It once happened that dur- 
ing a hunt a man galloped up to where the official sat smoking 
and spoke impatiently of the slow progress. He declared that the 
buffalo were moving off and might escape because of the delay. 
The director replied quietly, "If your way is the better, follow it." 
The man dashed off, followed by the hunters, who rushed on the 
herd; in the confusion several hunters were injured and the man 
himself was crippled for life by his horse falling on him. It was 



NATURE OF TABOO 13 

believed that he had been supernaturally punished for his irrev- 
erent action in interrupting the prescribed procedure. 24 

Dreams, visions, mishaps, and coincidental experiences have 
doubtless played a part in making and upholding taboos, but their 
importance can be easily overrated. Some taboos, which now 
seem senseless, may have had sense in the past, when they for- 
bade what had been found by experience to produce unwholesome 
results in the food quest, sex relations, warfare, and other activ- 
ities. Some taboos may have an underlying utility in the present, 
for they often bear the evidence of deliberate design on the part 
of tribal chiefs, magicians, and priests. The savage, indeed, is 
quite capable of backing up a useful rule by an appeal to "super- 
stitious" fears ; it is his way of securing prompt obedience to the 
rule. Like all customary observances, taboos sometimes arise 
within the group and are perpetuated by oral tradition; some- 
times they are due to intercourse, friendly or otherwise, with 
another group; and sometimes they are the result of a remote 
foreign impregnation leading to contact and fusion of cultures. 
Whatever the process, the outcome is obscuration and distortion, 
so that the origin of most taboos is involved in the same Cim- 
merian darkness that veils the origin of primitive customs gen- 
erally. An authority on the South African natives declares 
roundly that most of the Thonga taboos are "inexplicable," and 
his statement has more than a local application. 25 

A particular taboo, once well established, tends to multiply 
endlessly. There is here the same mistaken association of ideas 
that underlies sympathetic prohibitions : an object becomes tabooed 
which for any reason reminds one of something else tabooed. 
Thus prohibition is piled upon prohibition, as Ossa on Pelion and 
Pelion on Olympus, to anticipate every single possibility of dan- 
ger in the perilous maze of a world where all things are poten- 
tially dangerous. The rank growth of taboos, by an accumula- 
tion of crude inferences, helps to account for their very miscel- 
laneous character. 

Taboo, in its sociological aspects, refers to a system of pro- 
hibitions observed as customs and developing among the Poly- 
nesians and some other peoples into an institution. The objects 
forbidden are as numerous and varied as human experiences, for 
any persons, things, acts, or situations may be considered so dan- 
gerous that meddling with them recoils upon the meddler. The 
danger apprehended is never apparent to the senses, it is always 
hidden ; it is never explained, it is always assumed. A motive 



14 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

then arises for treating them with a caution not required in the 
case of other objects. Thus in Polynesia what was tabu must be 
handled with care; what was noa (' "general" or "common") 
might be handled with impunity. In its psychological aspects 
taboo may therefore be defined as the conception of the mystic 
dangerousness of a particular object, resulting in compulsions 
and restraints which center, not on what is prohibited, but on 
the mere fact of prohibition. There is just simple dread of the 
consequences of disobedience, (and since the consequences are 
often left indeterminate^ the dread is all the more impressive.. As 
we learn more about primitive mentality the nature of taboo will 
be better understood, and the inquiry into its motivation may 
well be extended to include a study of the child mind, the folk 
mind, and the subconscious mind as revealed by psychoanalysis. 
.- Fear is systematized in taboo. Fear runs the whole gamut 
of emotional reactions from "awful" to "awesome," so that any- 
thing mystically dangerous may be under prohibition as arousing 
now an abhorrent and now a respectful and even a reverential 
sentiment. One can say, therefore, that the conception of taboo 
is often ambivalent, with the important qualification that, among 
primitive peoples at least, the attitude of aversion is far more 
pronounced than the attitude of attraction. The "fear of the 
Lord" is the "beginning of wisdom" for the savage, however it 
may be for his civilized brother. The differentiation of the two 
% attitudes is never perfectly accomplished even in the higher reli- 
gions, for always some ambiguity remains as to what is fearsome 
because diabolic and what is fearsome because divine. The "un- ' 
clean thing" and the "clean thing" alike possess power, whether 
this be the power to blast or the power to bless. 26 

This process of differentiation can sometimes be observed 
when primitive folk are in contact with Christian missionaries. 
In the Tonga Islands the verb tabui, "to place under a taboo," is 
now used with the sense of "to bless." 27 In New Zealand the 
expression Wairua Tapu is translated "Holy Spirit." 28 Among 
the natives of Gabon orunda meant, originally, "prohibited from 
human use," "taboo" or "tabooed." As the result of missionary 
influence the word developed into its related sense of "sacred to 
spiritual use," and in the Mpongwe Scriptures orunda serves as 
the translation of our word "holy." "I think it an unfortunate 
choice," writes Dr. Nassau, "for the missionary has to stop and 
explain that orunda as used for God does not mean the orunda 
used by mankind." 29 



NATURE OF TABOO 15 

Among the Dakota Indians the word wakan is defined as 

mysterious; incomprehensible; in a peculiar state, which, from not 
being understood, it is dangerous to meddle with; hence the applica- 
tion of this word to women at the menstrual period, and from hence, 
too, arises the feeling among the wilder Indians that if the Bible, 
the church, the missionary, etc., are wakan, they are to be avoided, 
or shunned, not as being bad or dangerous, but as wakan. The word 
seems to be the only one for holy, sacred, etc., but the common ac- 
ceptation of it, given above, makes it quite misleading to the heathen. 30 

Objects mystically dangerous are, then, dynamic objects. Man 
recognizes them by what they do to him; it is by their activity 
that he knows them. From this manner of thinking, so natural 
and indeed inevitable, some primitive peoples have gone on to 
isolate in thought and often to indicate by a special name the 
occult power that reveals itself by producing effects beyond the 
ordinary capacity of man or the normal course of nature. Thus 
the Ba-ila of Northern Rhodesia conceive of a force, neutral in 
character and pervading all things. In itself, the force is neither 
good nor bad, but it can be tapped by those who have the secret 
of manipulation and so be turned to either a good or a bad use. 
An object in which the force resides is dangerous to interfere 
with; it is taboo (tonda). "There is something about the tonda 
person that jeopardizes the well-being of others; some baneful 
influence inherent in, or set in energy by, the tonda things, actions 
and words, making them a source of peril not only to the person 
handling, using, saying them but also, it may be, to his fellows. 
Jn this case they may excite the active resentment of those who 
/are affected and the offender may be punished by them ; but, gen- 
erally speaking, the taboo-breaker is left to the retribution of his 
own misdeed. V That is to say, these deeds or sayings have a 
malefic essence in themselves, and by a kind of automatic action 
* recoil upon the offender ; or, to put it more accurately they re- 
lease the spring which sets the hidden mechanism of nature in 
action against the offender." The Ba-ila have never clearly form- 
ulated their ideas of this force; they have no name for it. 31 

On the other hand, the Elema people of British New Guinea 
give it a name ahea t or "magical heat." The meaning of this 
word has been transferred from the purely physical heat of fire 
or the sun to that of the magician who is in a condition enabling 
him to do something beyond ordinary human capacity. Old men, 
bull-roarers, certain carved wooden plaques of great sanctity, and 



16 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

the magician's charms also possesses ahea. It is especially found 
in the secret leaves and pieces of bark used by the magician and in 
the ginger which he chews with the express purpose of making 
himself "hot." Things in which ahea resides are "hot things/' 
"They are charged with power, and those who handle them with- 
out authority may expect a shock ; or they are fierce and liable to 
snap." 32 Similarly, the Andaman Islanders have a word, ot-kimil, 
which, while it means "hot" in the sense of the English word, is 
likewise applied to everything supposed to be powerful for good 
or ill in their lives. Various plants and animals, together with 
the bodies of dead men and their bones, are especially charged 
with this quality of "hotness." All contact with them is danger- 
ous, but the danger may be avoided by ritual precautions. 38 

This notion of occult power is more definitely expressed by 
the Melanesian and Polynesian mana, a term best rendered, per- 
haps, by two words now somewhat old-fashioned, if not obsolete: 
the "virtue" that resides in a man and the "grace" that descends 
upon him. Disembodied souls (ghosts) and spirits (which were 
incorporeal from the first) possess mana; it may also be acquired 
from them by men, animals, and even inanimate things. Essen- 
tially similar terms, with much the same meaning, are found 
among the Malays, the Malagasy, various African peoples, and 
the American Indians. 8 * 

The occult power residing in an object mystically dangerous 
is transmissible and therefore is capable of affecting whatever 
comes in contact with it. This notion must be regarded as a 
product of experience, however wrongly interpreted. The savage 
is aware that the bite of certain insects and snakes has painful 
and perhaps fatal results. He has learned, after long observa- 
tion, that many plants and fruits, though tasty, are not good for 
eating. He is familiar with various diseases which may spread 
from man to man and from family to family, perhaps bringing 
death to an entire community. In all these instances the nature 
of the ill which happens to him is unknown ; what he knows is 
that contact with the dangerous object has unpleasant conse- 
quences. How much more unpleasant must be the consequences 
of contact with anything mystically dangerous with anything 
taboo ! 

The contact which automatically liberates occult power is 
most often bodily contact. The object is something not to be 
touched intangible in the strict sense of the word. The criminal* 
and the divine chief are both in a state of taboo, the one as un- 



NATURE OF TABOO 17 

clean, the other as holy. To touch either of them is to be affected 
by their mysterious and dangerous qualities. Sexual intercourse 
is an exceptionally intimate form of contact ; hence, when women 
are unclean, married couples must live apart. The absorption of 
food and drink likewise involves intimate contact; hence a great 
variety of alimentary prohibitions. Contact can be established in 
other ways as well : by sight as when an African chief must not 
even look at a river; or through the ear, as when Australian 
women must not listen to certain ritual songs; or through the 
nose, as when a Navaho Indian will not inhale smoke from a fire 
of sacred wood; or by speech, as when a Malagasy shrinks from 
pronouncing a tabooed name. Even mere proximity may suffice 
to transmit occult power, as when persons in a state of taboo are 
forbidden to approach growing crops. Procul 0! procul este, 
profani. 

The authority of a taboo is unmatched by that of any other 
prohibition. There is no reflection on it, no reasoning about it, 
no discussion of it. A taboo amounts simply to an imperative 
thou-shalt-not in the presence of the danger apprehended. That 
any breach of the prohibition was unintentional or well-inten- 
tioned matters nothing ; no allowance is made for either the ignor- 
ance or the praiseworthy purpose of the taboo-breaker. It should 
be noticed, however, that the consequences of a violation are 
sometimes thought to vary with the social position of the violator. 
This was particularly the case in the Polynesian area, where 
every chief possessed his store of occult power, or mana. The 
higher his rank, the more he had, and consequently the greater 
resistance could he offer to the mana resident in anything or any- 
body under a taboo. In the Tonga Islands, for instance, a com- 
moner who touched a dead chief became unclean for ten lunar 
months, but the uncleanness of chiefs who did so lasted for only 
three, four, or five lunar months, according to the superiority 
of the dead chief to them. 30 In New Zealand a taboo could be 
broken with impunity by a chief's son, because he was of higher 
rank than his father. 37 We are told, also, that among the Maori 
"a powerful man often broke through the tapu of an inferior." 88 

Instruction in the tribal taboos is a regular feature of the 
initiation rites found among many primitive peoples. 80 Knowl- 
edge of the taboos is also acquired within the family circle. Thus 
in Ontong Java, as a boy grows up, he begins to learn about the 
essential restrictions which men must observe that certain sub- 
jects may not be discussed in the presence of the sister, that 



18 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

everything connected with the dead is to be avoided, and that a 
temple or a priest must never be approached without due precau- 
tions. He is also warned that any infringement of the taboos 
will be punished by the kipua, the spirits of the dead. "Dozens of 
fearful examples will be told him by his parents and by other 
people with whom he may come into contact. All children know 
what happened to Ke laepa when he disobeyed his parents and 
strayed into the temple : they found him dead on the floor, killed 
by the angry kipua. Then there was 'Oma. He took an undue 
interest in the genital organs of his sister and was transfixed to 
a stone in consequence by these same spirits. Folk tales are told 
in the evening sometimes ; many relate the evil consequences fol- 
lowing on broken taboos." 40 Similarly in Tikopia, an island 
which like Ontong Java forms an outpost of Polynesian culture, 
children receive constant instruction from their parents when a 
breach of tapu has occurred or seems likely to occur. The habits 
of avoidance are inculcated in the earliest and most impression- 
able years. 41 

The consequences of taboo-breaking are not always described 
in detail. They may be left to the excited imagination of the 
taboo-breaker, who believes as firmly in the sequence of cause 
and effect (violation followed by punishment) as does the modern 
man in the inevitable action of natural laws. The taboos (sabe) 
observed by the Mowat or Mawatta tribe in the district of Dau- 
dai, British New Guinea, have for their sanction the dread that 
"something unpleasant" will happen either to the community or 
to the individual transgressing them. 42 In the Admiralty Islands, 
northeast of New Guinea, there is a direct relationship between 
keeping the taboos and success. The bad luck supposed to follow 
their violation is the main force in maintaining them. 43 

The natives of the Solomon Islands ascribe sickness, difficult 
parturition for women, lack of success in fishing and gardening, 
misfortune in war, and in short, most of the ills of life to the 
ceremonial defilement resulting from the violation of taboos. 44 
Among the Maori a taboo-breaker believed himself to be in a very 
serious condition, because his sacred life-principle, his mauri, 
was unprotected and exposed to every ill wind that blows, to all 
shafts of black magic, and to every malign influence affecting 
man. "Unless a person in this sorry plight hied him to a tohunga, 
or priestly expert, and had such disabilities removed, he would 
probably worry himself into an early grave." 45 

Among the Sea Dayak of Borneo one who does anything mali, 



NATURE OF TABOO 19 

or tabooed, is bound to meet some mischance. "Even the children 
seem to dread the word, and the little boy, who is willful and 
disobedient, will at once drop what he has in his hand if he is 
told it is mali for him to touch it." 46 Dr. Matthews once asked 
a Navaho what would happen if he married a woman of his own 
clan, thus violating the rule of exogamy and committing incest. 
"I would have bad fortune," said the Indian; "I would fall into 
the fire and get burned, the lightning would strike me, the cold 
would freeze me, or the gun would shoot me something fearful 
would happen to me." 47 

When the blow falls, belief in the efficacy of the taboo is 
amply confirmed, and wisdom is justified of her children. During 
their stay with the Warramunga, a Central Australian tribe, 
Messrs. Spencer and Gillen learned of the illness of a middle-aged 
native who had taken an active part in the performance of the 
various ceremonies. "He was a medicine man, but not being very 
old there were certain foods, such as emu and euro flesh, which 
he was not only forbidden to eat, but which he was supposed, ac- 
cording to strict etiquette, to bring in to the older medicine men 
for them to eat. Now, not only had be omitted to do this, but 
on more than one occasion he had actually been known to eat 
euro himself a very grave offence in the eyes of the older men, 
who had warned him that if he continued to do so something very 
serious would happen to him. Accordingly, when his illness came, 
it was at once attributed to the fact that he had deliberately done 
what he knew perfectly well was contrary to custom, and no one 
was in the least surprised. Amongst the men in camp there were 
five doctors, and as the case was evidently a serious one, they were 
all called in to consultation. One of them was a celebrated medi- 
cine man from the neighboring Worgaia tribe, and after solemn 
deliberation he gave it as his opinion that the bone of a dead man, 
attracted by the campfire, had entered the patient's body and was 
causing all the trouble. The others agreed with this opinion but, 
not to be outdone by a stranger, the oldest amongst the Warra- 
munga doctors decided that, in addition to the bone, an arabillia 
or wart of a gum tree had somehow got inside the man's body. 
The three less experienced men looked very grave, but said 
nothing beyond the fact that they fully concurred in the diagnosis 
of their elder colleagues. At all events it was decided that both 
the bone and the wart must be removed, and, under cover of 
darkness, they were in part removed after much sucking and rub- 
bing of the patient's body. However, their efforts were of no 



20 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

avail, and the man, who was really suffering from dysentery, 
died." 48 

More often the punishment to be anticipated is set forth ex- 
plicitly. It may be sickness in one shape or another or a wasting 
disease. The numerous food taboos observed by Australian boys 
are generally supported by such penalties. Among some of the 
Lower Murray tribes of Victoria boys prior to initiation must 
not eat emu, wild turkey, swans, geese, or black duck, or eggs 
of any of these birds. "Did they infringe this law in the very 
remotest degree, their hair would become prematurely grey, and 
the muscles of their limbs would waste away and shrink up." 49 
In the Arunta tribe of Central Australia an uncircumcised youth 
is forbidden to eat many animals or parts of animals. Infraction 
of the prohibitions entails various penalties such as premature 
age and decay and bleeding to death at circumcision. In the 
interval between circumcision and subincision, and indeed until 
the wound caused by the second of these operations has entirely 
healed, the youth is not allowed to eat opossums, snakes, lizards, 
wild turkeys, and their eggs, eagle hawks and their eggs, and 
some other animals. Should he do so, his recovery would be re- 
tarded and his wounds would be much inflamed. 50 

The natives of Ontong Java ascribe all illnesses and most 
deaths to the kipua, or spirits of the family dead. The breach of 
taboos and the neglect of ceremonies are among the offenses which 
the kipua'take upon themselves to punish. When a person falls 
ill, a medium, usually a woman, is called in to interview the 
spirits responsible for the visitation and to discover the particular 
action which has incensed them. More often than not this is 
the same misdeed that common gossip has already selected, for 
the medium, before she goes into a trance, knows all about the 
life history of her patient. Once the necessary information has 
been acquired, it may be possible to counteract the malign influ- 
ence of the spirits by appropriate rites. Sometimes all efforts to 
do so are unavailing. Not long ago a man who had been asked 
to join a group of fish-eaters accepted the invitation and ate the 
fish, but without inquiring what kinds these were. Having found 
out later that some of them were taboo to him, he visited a me- 
dium, learned from her what spirits had been offended by his con- 
duct, and performed the prescribed ceremony to avert their anger. 
About a month afterward he fell ill and the medium declared that 
the spirits had placed one of the totem fish in his body to eat 
away his vitals. "The progress of the fish was announced daily. 



NATURE OF TABOO 21 

It ate upwards until at last it consumed his heart and so killed 
him." 61 

The natives of the Tonga Islands in the old days were par- 
ticularly subject to malignant tumors. It was a firm belief with 
them that if a man broke a taboo or committed any other sacri- 
lege his liver or some other internal organ would become enlarged 
and indurated. The bodies of those who died were therefore 
often opened f o discover whether or not they had been sacrilegious 
during their lifetime. 52 

The Hawaiians recognized a class of spiritual beings, aumakua, 
who were generally though not always deified ancestors. They 
watched for any infringement of the taboos and especially for 
any neglect to fulfill a vow. A culprit was punished by them with 
sickness, disease, or some other dire misfortune. 53 

Similarly the Maori believed th^t any neglect or infringement 
of the law of tapu, either willful or undesigned or even brought 
about by the act of another person, moved the family spirits to 
anger. They would then commission one of their number to enter 
into the transgressor's body and prey on some part of it, more or 
less vital according to the magnitude of the offense. Infant spirits, 
it seems, were generally selected for this business, "on account of 
their love of mischief, and because, not having lived long enough 
to acquire attachments to their living relations, they are more 

likely to attack them without mercy When a person falls 

sick, and cannot remember that he has broken any law of tapu 
himself, he endeavors to discover who has got him into the scrape ; 
for it is not an uncommon practice to make a man offend against 
some law of tapu, without his being aware of it, with the express 
object of causing the anger of his atita to fall on him. This prac- 
tice is a secret art called makutu, and it has often happened that 
an innocent person has been sacrificed to the rage of the rela- 
tives of a sick man, under the belief that he had caused the dis- 
ease by such unlawful means." 54 

The Akikuyu of Kenya describe by the word thahu the con- 
dition into which a person falls by breaking, either accidentally 
or intentionally, one of their many taboos. "A person who is 
thahu becomes emaciated and ill or breaks out into eruptions or 
boils, and if the thahu is not removed, will probably die. In many 
cases this undoubtedly happens by auto-suggestion, as it never 
occurs to the Kikuyu mind to be sceptical on a matter of this 
kind." The taboos (also called thahu) are so numerous that a 
person cannot go through life without becoming ritually unclean 



22 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

some time or another. The dread of this affliction is ever pres- 
ent to the native mind. 55 Among the Akamba, another tribe of 
Kenya, thabu or makwa is the term applied to the impurity which 
results from a broken taboo. A curious case of this sort recently 
came to the notice of a British officer. "He was inspecting the 
hospital and found there a Kamba porter stricken with illness; 
his face was much swollen and covered with a kind of rash, and 
his testicles were also swollen. On enquiry, he stated that his af- 
fection came on suddenly after eating some hartebeest meat, and 
that he belonged to the Aitangwa clan, in which this is a for- 
bidden meat. The officer immediately sought out an intelligent 
Mu-Kamba, who knew nothing about the incident, and asked 
about the Aitangwa and their tabu, or makwa, and without hesi- 
tation he was told that hartebeest meat was forbidden, and de- 
scribed exactly the symptoms from which the porter was suffer- 
ing as being the result of breaking the prohibition. It was said 
that the man would have to sacrifice a goat and go through a 
purification ceremony to get rid of the affliction." 66 

The Indians in the southwestern part of the United States 
very generally believe that sickness is the outcome o/ a broken 
taboo. Navaho children who have been sent East to school and 
have later returned to the tribe often fall into feeble health. 
"Their illness is almost always attributed to the violation of taboo 
while they were away from home, and costly healing ceremonies 
are performed in order to remove the evil effects of the trans- 
gression." 57 Among the Omaha Indians a violation of any taboo 
observed by all the members of a clan was believed to be fol- 
lowed by the appearance of sores or white spots on the offender's 
body, or by his hair turning white. 58 

When sickness, especially if serious or prolonged, is regarded 
as the punishment for the violation of a taboo, the patient will 
be secluded and be subjected to purification should he recover. 
By the very fact of suffering from a grave and perhaps incurable 
illness, he has revealed himself as a taboo-breaker and hence has 
fallen into a state dangerous to others as well as to himself. 59 

The missionary William Ellis, referring to the Polynesians, 
^ declares that "as soon as an individual was afflicted with any dis- 
order, he was considered as under the ban of the gods ; by some 
crime or the influence of some enemy, he was supposed to have 
become obnoxious to their anger, of which his malady was the 
result. These ideas relative to the origin of diseases had a power- 
ful tendency to stifle every feeling of sympathy and compassion, 



NATURE OF TABOO 23 

and to restrain all from the exercise of those acts of kindness that 
are so grateful to the afflicted and afford such alleviation to their 
sufferings. The attention of the relatives and friends was directed 
to the gods, and their greatest efforts were made to appease their 
anger by offerings, and to remove the continuance of its effects 
by prayers and incantations. The simple medicine administered 
was considered more as the vehicle or medium by which the god 
would act, than as possessing any power itself to avert the progress 
of disease. If their prayers, offerings, and remedies were found 
unavailing, the gods were considered implacable, and the diseased 
person was doomed to perish. Some heinous crime was supposed 
to have been committed. " 80 

The Kayan of Borneo hang leaves of long (a species of cdadi- 
um), together with a large sun hat, upon the door of any room 
in which a person lies seriously ill and therefore "unclean." 81 

Among the Colorado Indians of western Ecuador sickness . 
defiles, not only the patient, but all other persons living in the 
same house with him. For nine days they must eat nothing but 
green plantain. Every evening during these nine days a big 
drum, which hangs in the hall of the house, is beaten to driv^ 
away the disease demons. The Canelos Indians of eastern Ecuar 
dor require a patient to eat only plantain for a few days after 
he falls ill ; if his state grows worse and he seems likely to die, his 
nearest relatives must submit to the same restricted diet. As our 
authority points out, these rules are dictated by the belief that 
the food in the house is infected by the disease, or "more cor- 
rectly, " by the disease demon. Uncautious eating on the part of 
the patient would therefore aggravate his illness. When all the 
persons in the house diet with him, they do so because they fear 
being infected themselves. When only the nearest relatives diet, 
their action is also partly due to consideration for the sick man. 
According to Indian belief there exists such an intimate rela- 
tionship between the members of a family that the consumption 
of unsuitable food would injuriously affect the delicate patient. 02 

A Navaho shaman treated a sick person by pressing certain 
sacrificial bundles to different parts of the patient's body from 
head to foot. After each application he held the bundles up to 
the smoke-hole and blew on them a quick puff in that direction, 
"as if blowing away some evil influence which the bundles were 
supposed to draw from the body." These were then taken out of 
the lodge and buried. 88 

The Eskimo of Baffin Land and Hudson Bay believe that a 



24 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

dark cloud or vapor, invisible to ordinary men, gathers around 
the taboo-breaker. It attaches itself to his soul and makes him 
sick. The shaman, helped by a guardian spirit, is able to see the 
defilement and to get rid of it. If this were not done, the sick 
person would die. In many cases, the defilement also affects those 
who have contact with the evil-doer. Particularly does it affect 
children, to whose souls the sins of their parents, and particularly 
of their mother, readily become attached. When, therefore, a 
child falls ill, the shaman, first of all, asks the mother whether 
she has transgressed any taboos. As soon as she admits that she 
has done so, the defilement leaves the child's soul and the child 
recovers. 84 

Death certain, sudden, and in terrible form is not seldom 
the fate which is announced to the taboo-breaker. In the midst 
of Eden grows the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and 
God has forbidden man to eat of its fruit, saying, "In the day 
that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." As a matter of 
fact, the taboo-breaker does often die, so acute is the fear aroused 
by even an involuntary transgression. Mr. Howitt tells of a 
"strong and healthy" Kurnai black boy employed by an Australian 
settler and found one day to be ill. "He explained that he had 
been doing what he ought not to have done, that he had 'stolen 
some female 'possum' before he was permitted to eat it ; that the 
old men had found him out, and that he would never grow up 
to be a man. He lay down under that belief, so to say, and never 
got up again, dying within three weeks." 65 

Many instances of this sort are recorded among the Maori. 
Judge F. E. Maning knew of a native who was killed "stone 
dead in six hours, by what I considered the effects of his own 
terrified imagination, but what all the natives at the time believed 
to be the work of the terrible avenger of the tapu" The unfor- 
tunate man had eaten food set apart for the chief but carelessly 
left by the wayside after the war party moved on. When the 
man was told that he had devoured the chief's unfinished dinner, 
"he was seized by the most extraordinary convulsions and cramps 
in the stomach, which never ceased till he died, about sundown 
the same day. He was a strong man, in the prime of life, and 
if any pakeka freethinker should have said he was not killed by 
the tapu of the chief, which has been communicated to the food 
by contact, he would have been listened to with feelings of con- 
tempt for his ignorance and inability to understand plain and 
simple evidence." 68 William Brown, another early authority, 



NATURE OF TABOO 25 

mentions the case of a man who appropriated some peaches and 
sweet potatoes from a tabooed place. After his return home a 
woman asked for some of the fruit. He gave it to her and, when 
she had eaten it, told her where he got it. She declared that the 
spirit of the chief, whose sanctuary had been thus profaned, would 
kill her. Die she did, the next day. 87 Richard Taylor relates how 
a chief's lost tinderbox killed several persons who were so un- 
fortunate as to find it and light their pipes from it, without know- 
ing that it belonged to so sacred an owner; "they actually died 
from fright/' 68 Tapu is an awful weapon," declares Mr. Tregear. 
"I have seen a strong young man die the same day he was ta- 
pued; the victims die under it as though their strength ran out as 
water." 69 

On one of the Loyalty Islands there stands a large stone of 
peculiar shape. It is supposed to have come from New Caledonia 
and to have been placed there by a certain old woman. She com- 
manded that whoever visited the island was on no account to take 
anything away. The natives who dared to disobey her injunction 
all died, so that now it is strictly obeyed. Nevertheless, some 
years ago a French trader, coveting the store of phosphate to be 
had on the island, got one of his employes to secure the mineral 
for him. The man was a strong, healthy, well-built fellow of 
about twenty-eight years of age. Shortly after his return from the 
island, he felt a headache and asked his mother to prepare for 
him some native medicines. A little later he said, "A great fear 
has taken possession of me; I feel as though I were about to be 
brought before a tribunal." When his friends looked at him the 
next day they noticed that one side of his face and body was 
changing color and becoming a dark purple, and they, fearing 
they knew not what, began to cry. He put out his hand to reas- 
sure them, saying, "Don't cry, if I were ill I would tell you so; 
give me a cigarette." He spoke a few words to his wife and then, 
without the least pain or apparent loss of power in his limbs, 
quietly passed away. 70 

Father Mcrolla, who visited the region of the Lower Congo 
during the latter part of the seventeenth century, tlls of the fate 
of a native who in ignorance had violated his food taboo, or 
chegilla. "A certain young negro, being upon a journey, lodged 
in a friend's house by the way : his friend, before he went out the 
next morning, had got a wild hen ready for his breakfast, they 
being much better than the tame ones. The negro hereupon de- 
manded, 'If it were a wild hen?' His host answered, 'No'; then 



26 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

he fell on heartily, and afterwards proceeded on his journey. 
About four years after these two met together again, and the 
aforesaid negro being not yet married, his old friend asked him, 
If he would eat a wild hen?' to which he answered, That he 
had received the chegitta, and therefore could not/ Hereat the 
host began immediately to laugh, enquiring of him, 'What made 
him refuse it now, when he had eaten one at his table about four 
years ago?' At the hearing of this the negro immediately fell 
a-trembling, and suffered himself to be so far possessed with 
the effects of imagination, that he died in less than twenty-four 
hours after." 71 

An anthropologist working among the Ga people of the Gold 
Coast once saw a man in a violent fit or seizure. It paralyzed his 
breathing and contracted all his muscles. He had not suffered a 
heart attack, for his pulse remained normal. After some hours 
he died. His friends were convinced that nothing could have 
been done to save him, for he had broken the conditions attached 
to a private taboo which bound him. 72 

A distinction is often drawn between what may be described 
as normal deaths, involving no danger to the family or the com- 
munity, and those which carry with them a dangerous contagion. 
People who die a "bad death" have been taboo-breakers or have 
been victims of the unseen powers. No pity is felt for them. They 
must be got out of the way as quickly as possible, lest the living 
be contaminated by their presence. 78 

The Australian aborigines account for most deaths as being 
due to the nefarious magic of their enemies, who are sought out 
and killed in retaliation. In western Victoria, however, the deaths 
of adults, as the result of epidemics, were not avenged, nor were 
those of beardless boys and of girls before their first menstruation. 
Persons who had lost their lives by some accident, such as drown- 
ing, falling from trees, or snake bite, were also unavenged. 74 

The natives of New Britain (Gazelle Peninsula) think that 
a man killed by falling from a tree was smitten by a fearful 
spirit, so fearful, indeed, that at night they take care never to 
pronounce its name. The victim of such an accident is not buried ; 
his body is left where it fell. In Buin (Bougainville Island) the 
body is carried to the burning place in the same attitude as that 
in which it was found. There are no funeral rites. 78 

When a Kayan mother becomes seriously ill or dies in giving 
birth to a child, her husband takes it into the forest and leaves it 
there to perish. The child is also exposed if either parent is 



NATURE OF TABOO 27 

frightened by bad dreams at this critical time. 76 The corpses of 
murdered people, of suicides, of those who have been accidentally 
killed, of warriors fallen in battle, of women dead in childbed, 
and of stillborn children all of these inspire the Kayan with the 
utmost fear. People who have died such deaths receive no funeral 
honors ; their bodies are simply rolled up in a mat and stuck in 
the ground. An especial terror attaches to the body of a woman 
who has died in giving birth, and no man and no young woman 
dares to touch it. 77 The Lolo of Yunnan think that persons who 
die by accident, suicide, or childbirth become malignant ghosts 
and require propitiation to prevent them from harming those 
whom they have left behind. Such deaths are described as "im- 
pure." 78 

An Ao Naga killed by a wild beast or a poisonous snake, by a 
fall from a cliff or a tree, or by drowning brings disgrace and 
ruin upon his relatives. However rich and influential he may 
have been, his name will never be recited along with those of the 
mighty dead, and all his property has to be abandoned. A woman 
dying in childbirth is similarly accursed. 79 

The Sema Naga add to the list of abnormal deaths those of 
people who are struck by lightning or are burned to death. People 
who kill themselves come in the same category. The body must 
not be buried in front of the house but at the back instead, or in 
broken ground where men do not walk about. Domestic animals 
killed by wild animals are also considered accursed, and their 
flesh may not be eaten by women. The evil attaching to the 
manner of death and the prohibitions entailed can be avoided if, 
just before the dying man draws his last breath, he can swallow 
food or drink. It is enough to pour a little into his mouth or even 
to spit in it. 80 The Garo deny to a man killed by a tiger the usual 
funeral rites. Everything that he had in daily use, such as his 
clothes, cooking pots, sword, and spear, must be destroyed, for 
it is taboo to use them after such a disaster. 81 

Among the Twi of the Gold Coast "should a man be drowned, 
be crushed by a falling tree in the forest, or be killed by lightning, 
such an occurrence would not be considered an accident; and a 
man who met his death in one of these modes would be believed 
to have perished through the deliberate act of a malignant being." 
When, for instance, a person has been drowned, the people say 
that the local deity of the sea or river where the accident occurred 
has "taken him." 82 

The Ibibio of Southern Nigeria forbid the burial of a woman 



28 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

dying in childbirth. Her body is borne forth through a hole 
purposely broken in the house wall and flung away in the bush. 
This is said to be done lest her barrenness should have an ill effect 
upon the fruitfulness of Mother Earth. A similar practice is 
found among the Kalahari, who forbid unmarried girls and preg- 
nant women to see the body of a person so accursed. All her 
possessions must be destroyed by fire; otherwise sterility might 
be the lot of another woman who used them. 83 The Timme 
(Timmani) of Sierra Leone destroy a village when anyone in 
it has been killed by a leopard or a crocodile. A heavy fine is also 
imposed on the members of the family to which the victim be- 
longed, because, they say, such a family must be very wicked, 
indeed, for their god to have punished it in this fashion. 84 

Among the Mossi of the western Sudan those who commit 
suicide or die of leprosy are buried at night and without any 
ceremonies. One who dies as the result of a fall, snake bite, or 
any other accident is disposed of in the same way. To accord 
funeral honors to such a person would offend the evil spirit re- 
sponsible for the death, and he would slay another member of 
the family. 86 Similar practices have been recorded for other West 
African tribes. 88 

The evils to be anticipated by the taboo-breaker are often 
identical with those which follow when a person is solemnly 
cursed. Sickness, death, or some fearful but undescribed misfor- 
tune will dog the footsteps of the one as of the other. A taboo 
cannot properly be described, however, as a prohibition with a 
curse expressed or implied. Cursing (as well as blessing) always 
requires an agent, who may be a man, a spirit, or a god. In a 
taboo there is no suggestion of an agent ; its action is automatic. 
For the same reason a taboo must be distinguished from an oath, 
which is essentially a self-curse whereby a person subjects him- 
self to some evil to be inflicted by a god, if what he says is not 
true; and from a vow, whereby a man dedicates himself or some- 
thing belonging to himself to a god, who will punish him if he 
breaks it. Both oaths and vows are ways of constraining or per- 
suading the supernatural powers; both imply a personal relation 
between the oath-swearer or the vower and these powers. 

Taboos, according to their scope, are either individual or 
social, the former affecting a single person or at most his family 
and immediate connections and the latter binding on a group 
such as a village community, a clan, or a tribe. The distinction of 
individual and social also applies to the consequences of broken 



NATURE OF TABOO 29 

taboos. Sometimes the taboo-breaker alone is supposed to suffer 
for his misdeed, but often his fellows are believed to be involved 
as well. Such is the solidarity of primitive society, so mobbish 
is the primitive mind, that the act of one becomes the act of all 
and imperils the welfare of all. If the penalty falls on the group, 
it is often represented as an epidemic sickness or a deadly disease. 
Terrifying natural phenomena, such as thunder and lightning, 
violent storms, and earthquakes, are sometimes ascribed to the 
infraction of a taboo, while excessive rainfall, protracted drought, 
and other untoward happenings receive the same explanation. 
Under such circumstances the group may take over the punish- 
ment of an offender, perhaps putting him to death or banishing 
him as an outcast and outlaw, not only to make an example, but 
also to purge itself of a dangerous contagion. When a taboo has 
been incorporated in a religious system the group may seek to 
appease by a piacular sacrifice the angered divinity held respon- 
sible for the visitation. With developing social life the punish- 
ment of the taboo-breaker forms an important function of the 
constituted authorities. An increasing reliance on the civil penalty 
indicates, however, that a taboo system has begun to break down 
of its own weight and for its continuance needs to be bolstered 
up by recourse to the secular arm. 87 <* u 

A state of taboo is either inherent in an object, as the neces- 
sary outcome of certain activities, situations, or characteristics; 
or imposed by the arbitrary action of a superior authority; or 
acquired by contact with anything or anybody tabooed. Women, 
especially during pregnancy, at confinement, after confinement, 
and at menstruation; infants; boys and girls at puberty; newly 
married couples; widows, widowers, and mourners generally; 
manslayers; warriors on a campaign; and hunters, fishers, and 
other persons engaged in some occupation highly important for 
the community welfare all are inherently taboo. The same con- 
dition of inherent pollution (or sanctity) attaches to the sick; 
to the dead ; to strangers ; to chiefs, kings, magicians, and priests ; 
and to sacred places, objects, rites, times, numbers, and names. 
When a state of taboo is due to imposition, this will be done by 
the tribal ciders, secret societies, chiefs, priests, and other public 
functionaries, and sometimes by private persons. The efficacy 
of a prohibition laid down by them depends not only on the pres- 
tige of the imposer, but also on the fear of the consequences of 
violating the prohibition. To intensify this fear, an object upon 
which a taboo has been placed will sometimes be solemnly charged 



30 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

with a curse in the name of a powerful spirit or else some potent 
incantation will be recited over it. 88 

The imposition of taboos by the tribal elders is the general 
rule in Australia, where the headmen of totemic and local groups, 
magicians, and old men of recognized importance exercise polit- 
ical authority. They meet from time to time in councils to debate 
and decide all matters affecting the tribe as a whole. The taboos 
which they lay down usually take the form of food prohibitions 
and restraints on marriage, to be observed by the younger men 
for the benefit of men more advanced in years. The council of 
elders likewise enforces the taboos, when enforcement is neces- 
sary. In northern Queensland, for instance, the natives are firmly 
convinced that willfully to partake of a forbidden food would 
result in sickness, probably of a fatal character, and that it would 
certainly never satisfy hunger. This belief, in itself, is usually 
sufficient to uphold the food restriction, but a would-be taboo- 
breaker also knows that, should he be caught red-handed by his 
fellows, "he would in all probability be put to death." 89 

Where secret societies are powerful, these organizations often 
lay down taboos and also maintain them. The Harihu society, 
among the Elema people of British New Guinea, protects garden 
produce by means of taboos which last until the crop is ready for 
gathering. The sign of the taboo is a small stone of special shape, 
bearing certain "private marks" of the Harihu. This is placed at 
the entrance to the garden. Should an offender escape punishment 
by the Harihu he would certainly perish from contact with the 
occult power (vadd) which invests the taboo sign. Among the 
Roro-speaking tribes the Kaivakuku society is less dreaded than 
its Elema counterpart, for in this part of New Guinea there is a 
recognized form of punishment for men caught breaking the 
crop taboos. The Kaivakuku cannot impose a taboo of its own 
initiative, but serves merely as the agent of the chiefs and elders, 
when the latter decide to take such action. 90 Secret societies are 
numerous in Melanesia, where chieftainship is incipient rather 
than developed. The Duk-duk of the Bismarck Archipelago ta- 
boos certain places and fruit trees, either on its own account or 
because of fees given to it by persons who put more trust in the 
protection afforded by the society than in the taboos which they 
themselves impose. 91 

The Tamate associations of the Banks Islands have a leaf of 
the croton or a hibiscus flower as their badge. To wear the badge 
without being a member of a Tamate association would subject 



NATURE OF TABOO 31 

the offender to a fine and a beating*. A Tamate man, by marking 
with his badge the fruit trees or garden which he wishes re- 
served for any particular use, feels reasonably certain that his 
prohibition will be respected ; the Tamate is behind him. Should 
it not be respected, a known offender must pay a pig or some 
shell money to the property owner or to the secret society. 92 

The centralization of political authority, replacing ruder 
methods of control by tribal elders and secret societies, transfers 
to the chieftain the power to impose, enforce, and abrogate taboos. 
Chiefs with such power are not unknown in some parts of New 
Guinea and also in Melanesia. Among the natives of the Solomon 
Islands, "the tambu ban" is said to constitute the real authority 
of a petty chief in time of peace. 93 

In some of the Solomons the penalty for an infraction of a 
chief's prohibition is forty strings of shell money a heavy fine 
and as much as a native needs to acquire a bride. An offender 
who cannot pay the fine may be killed. If he escapes to another 
island even there the vengeance of the chief will follow him, for 
a price is put upon his head. Such a prohibition has no ghostly 
sanction, but depends for its support upon the power of the chief 
who imposes it. There are also taboos (apu) for whose efficacy 
it is immaterial whether the person who invokes the ghosts is or 
is not a person of consequence. 94 

In the Banks Islands and the New Hebrides true taboos are 
imposed by both chiefs and commoners. "Some thing, action, or 
place is made tambu or tapu by one who has the power to do it, 
any one whose standing among the people gives him confidence 
to lay this character upon it. The power at the back of the tapu 
or tambu is that of the ghost or spirit in whose name, or in reli- 
ance upon whom, it is pronounced." Thus a chief may forbid 
something to be done or touched under penalty of paying him a 
large amount of shell money for violation of the prohibition; it 
seems to the European a proof of the power of the chief, but to 
the native it is evidence that the chief has his mighty tinddo or 
spirit to enforce the taboo. 'The sense of this in the particular 
case is remote, the apprehension of angering the chief is present 
and effective, but the ultimate sanction is the power of the tin- 
dalo" If a common man were to put a taboo on anything people 
would think that he would not dare to do so unless he knew he 
could enforce it; so they would watch, and if anybody violated 
the taboo and became sick afterward they could feel certain that 
it was backed by a powerful tinddo. "The tambu is too conven- 



32 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

ient an institution to drop when the original sanction for it has 
ceased to operate; a native Christian teacher therefore does not 
hesitate, as a man of position in society, to set a tambu; thieves, 
he says, are afraid of a man if not of a tindalo" 96 

The taboo system as it existed in the Fiji Islands was described 
by an early missionary as "the secret of power and the strength 
of despotic rule. It affects things both great and small. Here it 
is seen tending a brood of chickens ; and there it directs the ener- 
gies of a kingdom. Its influence is wondrously diffused. Coasts, 
lands, rivers, and seas ; animals, fish, fruit, and vegetables ; houses, 
beds, pots, cups, and dishes ; canoes, with all belonging to them, 
and their management; dress, ornaments, and arms; things to 
eat, and things to drink ; the members of the body ; manners and 
customs; language, names, temples, and even the gods also, all 
come under the influence of the tabu. It is put into operation by 
religious, political, or selfish motives, and idleness lounges for 
months beneath its sanction. Many are thus forbidden to raise 
or extend their hands in any useful employment for a long time. 
In this district it is tabu to build canoes ; on that island it is tabu 
to erect good houses. The custom is much in favour with the 
chiefs, who adjust it so that it may sit easily on themselves, while 
they use it to gain influence over those who are nearly their 
equals: by it they supply many of their wants, and command at 
will all who are beneath them. In imposing a tabu, a chief need 
only be checked by a care that he is countenanced by ancient 
precedents." 96 

The power of imposing taboos was also exercised by the divine 
chiefs in New Zealand, who took the fullest advantage of it to 
further their ambitions, promote their welfare, and satisfy their 
vengeance. A chief was able to communicate his sanctity to any 
objects he touched or even named so that they could not be used 
or appropriated henceforth by anyone not his superior in rank. 
Thus a chief might call a tract of land which he desired to reserve 
for his own cultivation his backbone or his head, and the land 
would immediately acquire the surpassing sanctity of those parts 
of his body. He might take possession of anything else that 
pleased his fancy, such as an ax or a canoe, by giving it his own 
name, and the rightful owner of the property dared not dispute 
the claim of a superior. He sometimes laid a tapu on a road or 
river or along the seacoast, to the inconvenience of the people. A 
chief who could taboo a whole neighborhood or a war fleet was 
a great man indeed. Only if a greater man came along could 



NATURE OF TABOO 33 

such a prohibition be violated with impunity. The delinquent 
would be stripped of everything movable which he possessed, and 
a slave would in all probability be put to death. 07 

Among the natives of the Marquesas Islands general taboos 
seem to have been pronounced by the priests, but in conjunction 
and in connivance with the chiefs. "If any one is so irreligious 
as to break through a tahbu, and should be convicted of it, he is 
called a kikino; and the kikinos are always the first to be devoured 
by the enemy, at least they believe it to be so, nor is it impossible 
that the priests should so arrange matters as that this really 
happens." 98 We are told further that inspirational priests some- 
times declared certain things taboo at the time they died. Thus, 
one priest forbade all the women of his tribe to wear long hair 
after his death, and another priest, having asserted that every- 
thing red was sacred to his spirit, prohibited commoners from 
wearing red dresses or eating red-colored articles of food." In 
the Hawaiian Islands, also, a taboo of general application could 
be imposed only by the priests, but this action might often be un- 
dertaken at the instance of the civil authorities. A violation of the 
regulations in force was punished capitally, the culprit being 
seized by the police, dragged to a temple, and there put to a cruel 
death. 100 

Objects upon which a taboo has been placed are usually indi- 
cated in a particular manner, so that the taboo-mark serves as an 
emphatic Noli me tangere, an equivalent and more than an equiva- 
lent of our "No Trespassing" signs. In some parts of British 
New Guinea sago leaves and coconut leaves are attached to fruit 
trees, while roads are blocked by placing a small screen of boughs 
or a row of sticks across them. In New Zealand a person who 
found a piece of drift timber secured it for himself by tying 
something around it or by giving it a chop with his ax. A simple 
bit of flax attached to the door of a private house made every- 
thing in it inviolable. By the same device a person might stop 
up a road over his land or protect any property left in an exposed 
position. When a chief laid a tafni on anything, he set up a post 
and painted it red, the sacred color among the Maori. 101 In the 
Marquesas Islands, where white was the sacred color, a strip of 
white cloth attached to any piece of property or to a holy place 
served as the sign of taboo. Tabooed objects in the Hawaiian 
Islands were also indicated by small white streamers or by other 
signs well understood and always respected. 

The length of time during which taboos remain in force varies 



34 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

with their character. Some inherent taboos are usually perma- 
nent, such as those affecting sacred persons and sacred objects 
and those relating to the consumption of certain foods and to the 
intercourse -of the sexes. Other inherent taboos are of a tempo- 
rary nature, for example, those which concern birth, puberty, 
marriage, and death. The duration of imposed taboos depends 
upon the pleasure of the imposer; they are often temporary, as 
when restrictions are put on hunting and fishing to secure a closed 
season and on the growing crops until harvest time. Many primi- 
tive peoples also mark by a temporary cessation of the normal 
activities, fasting, and other forms of abstinence certain occasions 
of special significance in the community life. The negative regula- 
tions which characterize them are true taboos, and the whole 
period of their continuance is a tabooed period. 

A state of taboo which has been formally imposed by the con- 
stituted authorities may be as formally lifted by an act of desac- 
ralization. There are various methods of doing so, all equally 
efficacious. The natives of Dobu, an island which belongs to the 
D'Entrecasteaux group, impose upon themselves a period of 
taboo, the so-called givara, after the death of a man of importance 
in one of their villages. All the inhabitants refrain from scaling 
the coconut palms and betel-nut palms and from touching the fruit 
of these trees. How long this ordinance will be observed depends 
upon the social position of the dead man and upon other circum- 
stances. Only when it is ready to expire do the natives of the 
Kiriwina (one of the Trobriands) dare to visit their Dobuan 
friends. When they arrive, the Dobuans put up a show of real 
hospitality, for the visitors must break the taboo by scaling the 
palms and taking the fruit. This procedure, declares our authority, 
is in accordance with the widespread Papuan-Melanesian custom 
of ending a tabooed period; "in all cases, someone else, who is 
not under the taboo, has to put an end to it, or to force the im- 
poser of the taboo to break it." 102 

The western tribes of Viti Levu, largest of the Fiji Islands, 
in former days possessed a secret association known as the Nanga. 
Its sanctuary and lodge formed the earthly dwelling place of the 
ancestral spirits; it was a tabernacle as holy to those Fijians as 
was the structure in the wilderness to the Israelites; there the 
first fruits of the yam harvest were presented to the ancestors, 
and there the young men of Viti Levu were introduced to the 
mysteries of the tribe. When the nanga enclosure was being 
raised, the people suspended all other work. Not even food-plant- 



NATURE OF TABOO 35 

ing might be done at such a time. "If any impious person trans- 
gressed this law, 'he would only plant evil to himself and to his 
kinsfolk'." After completing the enclosure, the workmen re- 
turned to the settlement, where they found the chief priest in 
attendance. He held in his arms a large wooden dish piled high 
with cooked yams cut into small pieces. Each man went up to 
the priest and took a portion of the yams, which he ate standing 
and in solemn silence. The ceremony instituted a release from the 
taboo of secular activities which had prevailed. 103 

In New Zealand a council house under construction was very 
tapu. No woman might enter it and no cooked food might be 
taken inside it. When completed and ready for occupancy, it had 
to be ceremonially named and opened to the public. The officiat- 
ing priest ascended the roof and chanted a spell which lifted the 
taboo off the building. Before people could enter, however, three 
women of rank went through the doorway to "trample the thresh- 
old." Were this not done, the ridgepole (the sacred backbone of 
the house) would sag dawn and the appearance of the mansion 
wopld be spoiled. 10 * 

The savage, fortunately for his peace of mind, knows ways 
of avoiding objects mystically dangerous and charged with occult 
power. These may be removed to a safe distance, or be carefully 
isolated, or be subjected to a variety of insulating regulations. 
When, however, a state of taboo has not been avoided or cannot 
be avoided, the savage seeks an antidote or disinfectant for it 
by means of purificatory rites. Since the pollution or sanctity is 
conceived of as being material in character, the methods used to 
get rid of it will be such as find use in dealing with material 
objects. 105 

A method of purification found particularly in the Polynesian 
area consisted in transferring a state of taboo from one person 
to another person who could safely absorb or neutralize occult 
power without deleterious consequences to himself. When a 
Tongan became tabu from touching a superior chief or any of 
the latter's possessions, he dared not feed himself before he had 
touched the soles of a grandee's feet with his hands, which he 
then rinsed in water. Were no water near, it was enough to rub 
his hands with the stem of a plant and thus get the needed mois- 
ture. "He may then feed himself without danger of any disease 
which would otherwise happen, as they think, from eating with 
tabooed hands; but if anyone think he may have already (un- 
knowingly) eaten with tabooed hands, he then sits down before 



36 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

a chief, and taking the foot of the latter, presses the sole of it 
against his own abdomen, that the food which is within him may 
do him no injury, and that consequently he may not swell up and 
die." However, if anyone touched the person or garments of the 
highest chief, the Tui Tonga, who might be described as the 
pope of the Tonga Islands, the tabu incurred could not be re- 
moved by resort to another chief, since no other chief equaled him 
in rank. Only he could do it, but, "to avoid the inconvenience 
arising from his absence, a consecrated bowl (or some such 
thing), belonging to Tooitonga, is applied to and touched, in- 
stead of his feet. In Mr. Mariner's time, Tooitonga always left 
a pewter dish for this purpose, which dish was given to his father 
by Captain Cook." 106 

A Maori, suffering from an attack of hauhamitu, which may 
be described as a nervous condition caused by some infringement 
of the law of tapu, could be cured if he crawled between the legs 
of the chief of his clan. In some cases a person so afflicted got 
the eldest-born woman of a high-ranking family to step over 
him as he lay on the ground. 107 A taboo-breaker might also be 
cured by rubbing his hands on a sweet potato or on fern root 
which had been cooked over a sacred fire. This food was then 
eaten by the highest representative of his family in the female 
line. 108 In New Zealand, as has been noticed, women of high 
rank possessed a special tapu-liftmg function. Still another way 
of accomplishing the same result was to touch a child and take 
food and drink from its hands. The child became, in turn, taboo, 
but only for a day. 109 

Purification can be accomplished by transferring the infection 
to a sacred object, as illustrated by the Tonga practice with refer- 
ence to the Tui Tonga. A Hawaiian ruler, as part of the installa- 
tion or coronation ceremony, bathed in the sea. While so doing, 
a priest struck him on the back with a sacred branch plucked 
from a tree which grew in the precincts of the temple and at the 
same time offered up the prescribed invocation. Any impurity 
which the king might have contracted was thus removed. 110 In a 
Maori ceremony of purification a piece of consecrated wood was 
passed over the right shoulder of the tabooed person, then round 
his loins, and back again over his left shoulder. Afterward the 
stick was broken and either buried, burned, or cast into the sea. 111 
No doubt this disposition of it was supposed to get rid of the 
deadly virus which it had acquired. 

Pollution (or sanctity) may also be transferred to an animal 



NATURE OF TABOO 37 

or scapegoat, which will then be driven away from the community 
or, less commonly, will be killed. 112 In the Fiji Islands a tabooed 
person first washed in a stream and then wiped his hands on a 
pig or a turtle. The animal in this case was not slaughtered, but 
became sacred to the chief. 118 

A Zulu wife will not partake of sour milk for some time after 
her marriage. She was bought with milk-giving cattle, and for 
her to eat her own purchase price would be defiling. After a visit 
to her father, from whom she brings a goat, a sheep, or a cow, 
according to the rank of the parties, the taboo is lifted. The ani- 
mal is slaughtered, and the isisila the defilement then passes 
into the dead animal from the milk, which henceforth may be 
safely consumed. She has "cleaned her spoon/' 11 * The Akikuytt 
of Kenya transfer the guilt of incest to a he-goat, which is then 
killed. If this ceremony were not performed, the culprit would 
die. 116 

A human being may serve as a scapegoat. In some parts of 
New Zealand, when an epidemic raged, the Maori performed the 
following ceremony. Some man was selected as a temporary 
scapegoat, and to his body a fern stalk was loosely attached. After 
the priestly expert had recited a charm or invocation over him, 
he waded into the water, immersed himself, and when completely 
submerged released the fern stalk, letting it float away. The epi- 
demic was thus transferred to the scapegoat and then to the 
fern stalk, and as the latter disappeared so did the evil influence 
which affected the people. 116 

Among the Baganda, after a new king had been crowned, 
two men, bound and blindfolded, were brought before him. One 
of them he freed and made guardian of his wives in the royal 
enclosure. The other prisoner was taken, along with a cow, a 
goat, a dog, a fowl, and the ashes of the late king's sacred fire, 
to the Bunyoro frontier. There both man and animals were 
maimed, so that they could not crawl back into Uganda, and were 
left to perish miserably. The ceremony was designed "to do 
away with any uncleanness" which might attach to the king or 
to the queen upon their accession to the throne. 117 

Purificatory rites by means of a physical purgation vary end- 
lessly in detail, but they are mostly reducible to a few great 
classes. The principal ones include aspersion and ablution with 
water (sometimes also with blood) ; the application of other 
detergents such as white earth or clay, ashes, and dung; unction; 
burning and fumigation; rubbing and brushing; and flagellation. 



38 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Several forms of purgation may be combined in a single cere- 
mony. The services of a specialist in the thaumaturgic art are 
often required to give potency to the ritual. 

In many cases it is not difficult to discover the reasons for the 
choice of a particular method of physical purgation. The use of 
water is world-wide, for water is the universal cleanser. Mud, 
clay, dung, and other substances containing liquids, when daubed 
on the person, absorb dirt and sweat; why should they not also 
absorb ritual uncleanness? Unguents, applied to the skin and 
hair, are commonly used for cosmetic purposes; their employ- 
ment in many purificatory rites is therefore understandable. The 
power of fire to dry up miasma and destroy infection must have 
been recognized by man at an early period ; how natural to sub- 
ject the ritually unclean to flames and smoke. The purifying 
quality of ashes and charcoal is doubtless derivative from that 
ascribed to fire. An object which defiles the person can often be 
rubbed away or brushed away; therefore rubbing or brushing 
may be equally efficacious to get rid of a mysterious defilement. 
In the same way the practice of removing dust and dirt by beat- 
ing perhaps accounts for flagellation as a purificatory rite. 118 And 
when emetics, cathartics, and sweat baths are taken to get rid 
of bodily impurity it is an easy step to their use for riddance 
from ritual impurity. 

Some features of purificatory rites are intended to mark the 
termination of a state of taboo and the complete severance from 
things ceremonially unclean that has been at length achieved. 
Here belongs the common custom of putting on new clothes for 
clothes make the man. Shaving of the head or eyebrows and 
depilation are also frequently practiced to indicate that purifica- 
tion has been accomplished; conversely, the hair and nails may 
be allowed to grow for the same purpose. 

Referring to the native peoples of South Africa generally, a 
competent authority observes that "a Kafir seems to gain in 
self-confidence as he conforms to the customs of cleansing which 
his fellows adopt. The act enables him to face the world once 
more. His self-respect is restored, and he feels clean, even though 
there be but little readjustment of his moral nature." 119 This 
statement is evidently of wide application. The consciousness 
that the prescribed ceremonies of purification have been duly per- 
formed acts as a counter-suggestion to the malaise, the sense of 
oppression, the dismay, and even the positive terror aroused by 
the violation of a taboo. A great weight has been lifted from the 



NATURE OF TABOO 39 

offender's shoulders ; relieved of all anxiety as to the unpleasant 
consequences of his action, he can now lead a normal life and 
take his usual place in the community. 

Purificatory rites come in time to be the special care of ma- 
gicians and priests. Great has been their service in freeing man 
from the disabilities imposed by a taboo system, and richly have 
they been rewarded for the performance of what, under the cir- 
cumstances, was an indispensable function. 

NOTES TO CHAPTER I 

1 See Sir J. G. Frazer, 'Taboo," Encyclopedia Britannica (9th ed., 1888), 
XXIII, 15-18, reprinted in Garnered Sheaves [London, 1931], pp. 90-92) ; N. W. 
Thomas, "Taboo," Encyclopedia Britannica (llth ed.), XXVI, 337-41; R. R. 
Marett, "Tabu," Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, XII, 181-85 ; 
F. B. Jevons, An Introduction to the History of Religion (2d ed., London, 1902), 
pp. 59-95; C. H. Toy, Introduction to the History of Religions (Boston, 1913), 
pp. 239-64; W. G. Sumner and A. G. Keller, The Science of Society (New 
Haven, 1927), II, 1095-1132, IV, 577-604; A. R. Radcli fife- Brown, Taboo (Cam- 
bridge, 1939), The Frazer Lecture, 1939. 

2 In the Hawaiian dialect t is pronounced k and Tongan 6 is pronounced p. 
See E. Tregear, The Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary, p. xxiii. 

a Edward Shortland, Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders 
(2d ed., London, 1856), p. 101. 

4 E. S. C. Handy, "Polynesian Religion," Bemice P. Bishop Museum Bul- 
letin, No. 34, p. 318, note 32. 

6 A list of the cognate forms and equivalents of tapu or tabu in the lan- 
guages of Polynesia and Melanesia will be found in William Churchill, The 
Polynesian Wanderings (Washington, D.C., 1911), pp. 263 f. A much fuller 
list, which includes Micronesia and Indonesia, is given by F. R. Lehmann, Die 
polynesischen Tabusitten (Leipzig, 1930), pp. 301-11. See also C. Mensch, Taboe, 
een primitieve vrecsreactie. Studie over de taboebe paling en bij de Indonesische 
Volken (Amsterdam, 1937), pp. 28-35. 

8 James Cook and James King, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London, 
1784), I, 286, 305 f., 338, 350, 410 f.; II, 40, 249; III, 101, 163 f. Vols. I-II were 
by Cook, Vol. Ill was by King. 

7 William Ellis, Polynesian Researches (2d ed., London, 1831), IV, 385-90. 

8 By the Marquesans, "anything opposed to the ordinary customs of the 
islanders, although not expressly prohibited, is said to be 'taboo'" (Herman 
Melville, Typee [new ed., Boston, 1892], p. 328). In Madagascar the term fady, 
equivalent to tabu, is applied equally to acts which are simply contrary to good 
manners and hence meet only popular disapproval and to those which are offen- 
sive to the ancestors and entail supernatural punishment (Ralph Linton The 
Tanala [Chicago, 1933], p. 229). Among the Tswana and related tribes of the 
Bechuanaland Protectorate the word for taboo (rnoila) means "something for- 
bidden" and may refer to any prohibited act, whatever its sanction. It is used, 
more particularly, with reference to prohibitions where the consequences of dis- 
obedience follow automatically, without the direct intervention of any specific 

t^<wS nCy (I% Schapera ' A Handbook of Tswana Law and Custom [Ox- 
ford, 1938], p. 39). 



40 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

9 Archibald Campbell, during a residence of thirteen months (1809-1810) 
in the Hawaiian Islands, knew of only one instance of capital punishment for 
taboo-breaking. That was the case of a man who violated the sanctity of a 
temple. He got drunk, quitted it during a tabooed period, and entered the house 
of a woman. He was seized, his eyes were put out, and afterward he was 
strangled (A Voyage Round the World [3d ed. New York, 1819], p. 121). 
Urey Lisiansky tells of an islander condemned to death for eating a coconut 
during a tabooed period (A Voyage Round the World [London, 1814], p. 117). 

10 Even in Polynesia the connection of taboo with the gods appears as a 
secondary phenomenon. "My own observation of the Polynesians," writes Pro- 
fessor Radcliffe- Brown, "suggests to me that in general the native conceives of 
the change in his ritual status as taking place as the immediate result of such an 
act as touching a corpse, and that it is only when he proceeds to rationalize the 
whole system of taboos that he thinks of the gods and spirits the atua as be- 
ing concerned" (The Frazer Lecture, 1939, pp. 14 f.). 

11 Referring to the "spirits" which protect coconut trees among the Mailu 
of British New Guinea, Professor Malinowski declares that "they are merely 
mechanical factors, bringing about, as an intermediate agency, the evil results 
inherent in the breaking of the taboo." A would-be violator does not fear them, 
considered as personal powers; what he fears is the bad luck in fishing which 
will result from his action (B. Malinowski, in Transactions of the Royal Society 
of South Australia, XXXIX [1915], 583). The Polynesian word atua does not 
always refer to a personal divine being. "The term is even applied to disease, 
and may include almost anything that is disagreeable or viewed as being super- 
natural" (Elsdon Best, The Maori as He Was [Wellington, N.Z., 1924], p. 67). 
Among the Thado Kuki of Assam, as an experienced observer points out, the 
terms "evil spirits" and "bacteria" are in effect synonymous. "To the Thado 
all sickness is caused by spirits, and when I asked an exceptionally intelligent 
interpreter why, in that case, quinine should cure malaria, he replied in some 
surprise that it was surely obvious; Europeans had discovered with greater 
exactitude than Kukis what precise smell each variety of evil spirit disliked 
most, and hence used quinine for fear, chlorodyne for a flux, and castor oil for 
a pain in the stomach" (J. H. Hutton, in Man, XXXIV [1934], 76). The 
Bahima evil spirits, a numerous company, are mostly identified with the various 
maladies such as neuralgia, fever, bubonic plague, and smallpox, from which the 
natives suffer (Sir H. H. Johnston, The Uganda Protectorate [2d ed., London, 
1904], II, 631). A similar identification is made by the Bangala of the Upper 
Congo, among whom the names of serious illnesses are also the names of the 
spirits responsible for sending them. See J. H. Weeks, in Journal of the Royal 
Anthropological Institute, XL (1910), 377. 

12 J. L. Wilson, Western Africa (London, 1856), p. 395; compare pp. 210 f. 
Among the Zulu, personal taboos sometimes originate in dreams. One of Canon 
Callaway's native informants refers to the case of a man who is troubled by 
daily dreams which he does not understand. "At length he becomes ill ; and there 
is certain food he is obliged to abstain from, being told in his sleep not to eat 
such and such food. So he no longer eats that food If he eat it from opposi- 
tion, his health suffers. At length he leaves it alone, saying, 'A spirit has visited 
me'" (Henry Callaway, The Religious System of the Amasulu [London, 1870], 
p. 183). 

13 A. W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (London, 
1904), pp. 89 f. Arunta medicine men have the power of seeing and communi- 
cating with the ancestral spirits, or iruntarinia. Children who are born with 
their eyes open also have this power when they arrive at maturity, provided 
always that they grow up modest and sedate in bearing. The iruntarinia, it 



NATURE OF TABOO 41 

seems, never reveal themselves to scoffers, frivolous people, and chattering men 
and women. Children born with their eyes closed cannot have intercourse with 
spirits when they reach maturity unless they become medicine men (Sir Bald- 
win Spencer and F. J. Gillen, The Native Tribes of Central Australia [London, 
1899], p. 515). 

14 A. Cabaton, Nouvelles recherches sur les Chams (Paris, 1901), p. 46. 

15 T. C. Hodson, The Meitheis (London, 1908), pp. 118 f. 

16 J. B. Dunbar, in Magasine of American, History, VIII (1882), 749. 

17 G. A. Allen, in Smithsonian Report for 1890, pp. 61 5 f. 

18 John Martin, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands .... from 
the Extensive Communications of Mr. William Mariner (3d ed., Edinburgh, 
1827), I, 307. 

19 W. A. Reed, Negritos of Zambales (Department of the Interior, Ethno- 
logical Survey Publications, Vol. II, Part I), (Manila, 1904), p. 65. 

20 W. W. Skeat, Malay Magic (London, 1900), pp. 41 f. 

21 W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas (London, 1906), pp. 2f. See, further, pp. 
308 ff. 

22 Edward Westermarck, Ritual and Belief in Morocco (London, 1926), I, 
191. 

23 James Mooney, "The Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians," Seven- 
teenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Part I, p. 296. 

24 Alice C. Fletcher and Francis La Flesche, in Twenty-seventh Annual 
Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 281 f. 

25 H. A. Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed., London, 1927), 
II, 578. 

26 The ethical and religious systems of antiquity contain various terms that 
bear a close resemblance in signification to taboo. The Babylonian mamit de- 
scribed that state of ritual impurity or ceremonial uncleanness attending certain 
circumstances or actions (C. Fossey, La magie assyrienne [Paris, 1902], pp. 52, 
58; R. C. Thompson, The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia [London, 1904], 
Vol. II, pp. xxxix ff.). The Hebrew tame referred to things dangerous, not to 
be touched, ritually defiling ; as W. Robertson Smith pointed out, it "is not the 
ordinary word for things physically foul; it is a ritual term and corresponds 
exactly to the idea of taboo" (Kinship and Marriage in Ancient Arabia [2d ed., 
London, 1903], p. 309). For a list of Biblical passages containing tame see Jacob 
Singer, Taboo in the Hebrew Scriptures (Chicago, 1928), p. 102. The sense of 
mystic perilousness and unapproachableness also sometimes attaches to the term 
qadosh (rendered in the English version of the Old Testament by "holy"). The 
two ideas of sacredness and pollution are combined in the Greek TO fryos, but 
they were usually discriminated, dyvcs or fiyios being devoted to the sense of 
"sacred" and dvayris to that of "unclean" or "accursed." Among the Romans 
the original signification of sacer was simply taboo, that is, "accursed" or 
"sacred" according to circumstances. As W. W. Fowler has shown, the word 
did not convey a sinister meaning in late Roman times, but rather referred to 
that which is consecrated or sacrificed to a benevolent deity. In all its archaic 
uses, however, the sinister meaning is prominent (Roman Essays and Interpre- 
tations [Oxford, 1920], pp. 23 f.). 

27 E. E. V. Collocott, in American Anthropologist (n.s., 1921), XXIII, 416. 

28 E. Tregear, The Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary, s.v. "Tapu," 

29 R. H. Nassau, Fetichism in West Africa (New York, 1914), p. 80. 



42 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

80 The Rev. W. J. Cleveland, in Riggs's Dakota-English Dictionary (Con- 
tributions to North American Ethnology, VII, 507 f.). 

81 E. W. Smith and A. M. Dale, The Ila-speaking Peoples of Northern 
Rhodesia (London, 1920), I, 347; II, 82 ff., 89. 

82 F. E. Williams, Drama of Orokolo (Oxford, 1940), pp. Ill f. At Saa 
in Mala (one of the Solomon Islands) all persons and things in which super- 
natural power resides are said to be saka, that is, "hot." Powerful ghosts 
are saka, so also are men who have knowledge of things supernatural. A per- 
son who knows a charm which is saka mutters it over water, thus making the 
water "hot" (R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians [Oxford, 1891], pp. 191 f.) 

88 A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, The Andaman Islanders (Cambridge, 1933), pp. 
267 ff., 307 ff., 404. 

84 On mana and related terms see R. R. Marett, in Hastings' Encyclopaedia 
of Religion and Ethics, VIII, 375-80, and M. Lohr and R. Thurnwald, in 
Ebert's Reallexikon der Vorgeschichte, VII, 4-15. See further, H. I. Hogbin, 
"Mana," Oceania, VI (1935-1936), 241-74 (for the Melanesian data only). 

86 See Ernest Crawley, "Sexual Taboo," Journal of the Anthropological 
Institute, XXIV (1895), 116-25, 219-35, 430-46; idem, The Mystic Rose (Lon- 
don, 1902), especially pp. 76-132. A new edition of this work, revised and en- 
larged by Theodore Besterman, has appeared (2 vols., London, 1927). 

86 Martin-Mariner, op. cit., 3d ed., I, 133, note. A Tongan under taboo 
"must not feed himself with his own hands, but must be fed by somebody else. 
He must not even use a toothpick himself, but must guide another person's 
hand holding the toothpick. If he is hungry, and there is no one to feed him, 
he must go down upon his hands and knees, and pick up his victuals with his 
mouth. And if he infringes upon any of these rules, it is firmly expected that 
he will swell up and die; and this belief is so strong that Mr. Mariner thinks 
no native ever made an experiment to prove the contrary. They often saw 
him feed himself with his hands after having touched dead chiefs and, not 
observing his health to decline, they attributed it to his being a foreigner and 
being governed by different gods" (Martin- Mariner, loc. cit.). 

87 Edward Tregear, The Maori Race (Wanganui, New Zealand, 1904), p. 95. 
8 * Richard Taylor, Te Ika A Maui (2d ed., London, 1870), p. 168. 

8 See H. Webster, Primitive Secret Societies (2d ed., New York, 1932), 
pp. 49 ff., 106 ff. 

40 H. I. Hogbin, "Education in Ontong Java," American Anthropologist 
(n.s., 1931), XXXIII, 607 f. 

41 Raymond Firth, We, the Tikopia (London, 1936), p. 157. 

42 W. H. Beaver, Unexplored New Guinea (2d ed., London, 1920), p. 66. 

43 Hortense Powdermakcr, Life in Lesu (New York, 1933), p. 268. 

44 W. G. Ivens, Melanesians of the South-Ei*st Solomon Islands (London, 
1927), p. 251, referring particularly to the islands of Mala and Ulawa. 

45 Best, The Maori as He Was, p. 83. If a seer disregarded a rule of tapu, 
he at once lost his power of second sight and became spiritually blind that is, 
"he would be unable to see the portents and signs by means of which the gods 
warn man of dangers that threaten him, and enable him to peer into the future" 
(loc. cit.). 

46 E. H. Gomes, Seventeen Years among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo (London, 
1911), pp. 197 f. 

47 W. Matthews, "The Study of .Ethics among the Lower Races," Journal 
of American Folk-Lore. XII (1899), 6. 



NATURE OF TABOO 43 

48 Sir Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, The Northern Tribes of Central 
Australia (London, 1904), pp. 515 f. 

49 P. Beveridge, in Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New 
South Wales (1883), XVII, 27. Similarly, among the tribes of the Elema dis- 
trict of British New Guinea boys undergoing initiation are told that if they 
eat any food tabooed to them "they will speedily become bald and prematurely 
shrivelled in body; disease and death will come upon them, and their names 
will be held in disgrace among their relatives" (J. [H.] Holmes, in Journal of 
the Anthropological Institute, XXXII [1902], 422). 

60 Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 470 f . 

61 H. I. Hogbin, Law and Order in Polynesia (London, 1934), pp. 143 if., 
158 f. See, further, idem, "Spirits and the Healing of the Sick in Ontong 
Java," Oceania, I (1930), 145-66. 

82 Martin-Mariner, op. cit. t 3d ed., I, 172, note. According to the same 
authority the Tongans also supposed that taboo-breakers were particularly 
liable to be bitten by sharks. Consequently, all suspected persons had to go 
into shark-infested waters, and the one who was bitten or devoured was ad- 
judged to be guilty (II, 186). 

83 W. D. Alexander, A Brief History of the Hawaiian People (New York, 
1891), pp. 39, 66. 

84 Shortland, Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders (2d ed.), 
pp. 114ff. Cf. J. L. Nicholas, Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand Per- 
formed in the Years 1814 and 1815 (London, 1817), II, 170. Makutu was the 
general name for witchcraft or sorcery among the Maori. In the case referred 
to, it was usually practiced by a person in an inferior position or by one who 
did not dare show his animosity openly. The sick man would consult a diviner, 
who might be able to point out the culprit and also to nullify the evil effects 
of the broken tapu. See Tregear, Maori Race, pp. 201 f . 

86 C. W. Hobley, Bantu Beliefs and Magic (London, 1922), pp. 103, 142. 
Mr. Hobley enumerates no less than sixty-eight thahu among the Akikuyu. 
Tribal elders of the highest grade enjoy, as a rule, immunity from thahu, prob- 
ably because of the sanctity which they acquire by the performance of certain 
sacrifices. They may thus be considered as a primitive priesthood (p. 127). 

80 Hobley, op. cit., p. 134. 

7 W. Matthews, in Journal of American Folk-Lore, XI (1898), 107. The 
reluctance of the Navaho to send their children away to school is due to the 
knowledge that the children will be obliged to violate food taboos; they will 
have to eat ducks, geese, and fish or go hungry (p. 106). 

88 Alice C. Fletcher and Francis La Flesche, in Twenty-seventh Annual 
Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, p. 144. 

89 See L. Levy-Bruhl, Primitive Mentality (London, 1923), pp. 291-306; 
idem, How Natives Think (London, 1926), pp. 263-76. 

G Ellis, Polynesian Researches (2d ed.), Ill, 46 f.; see also I, 395 f. The 
Maori regarded a person seriously ill as suffering from "a preternatural visitation 
of retributive justice, which it would be impious to resist by any human expedi- 
ent" (Nicholas, Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand, II, 303). 

61 Charles Hose and William McDougall, The Pagan Tribes of Borneo 
(London, 1912), II, 8. According to Carl Bock, no one is allowed to enter the 
sickroom; the patient is left to himself (The Head-Hunters of Borneo [2d ed., 
London, 1882], pp. 214, 230). 

62 Rafael Karsten, The Civilisation of the South American Indians (Lon- 
don, 1926), pp. 472 ff. 



44 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

68 W. Matthews, in Fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 420. 
84 F. Boas, in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, XV, 

124 f . These Eskimo, who hold that sickness is the result of taboo-breaking, 
require the sick person to confess his sins to the medicine man, before cere- 
monies for his recovery can be performed. If, nevertheless, the patient dies, 
"it is believed that he had some mental reservation and was not quite honest 
about his confession" (J. W. Bilby, Among Unknown Eskimo [London, 1923], 
p. 207). 

65 Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia, pp. 769 f ., on the au- 
thority of J. M' Alpine. 

66 Old New Zealand, by a Pakeka Maori (London, 1884), pp. 95 ff. A 
pakeka Maori is a "foreigner turned Maori." Maning received adoption into a 
Maori tribe and married one of its women. 

67 New Zealand and Its Aborigines (London, 1845), p. 76. 
Te Ika A Maui (2d ed.), P. 164. 

69 E. Tregear, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XIX (1890), 100. 

70 Emma Hadfield, Among the Natives of the Loyalty Group (London, 1920), 
pp. 165 f . 

71 J. Merolla da Sorrento, "A Voyage to Congo," in John Pinkerton, A 
General Collection of Voyages and Travels (London, 1814), XVI, 238. 

72 M. F. Field, Religion and Medicine of the Ga People (Oxford, 1937), 
p. 118 and note 1, p. 119. 

73 See Levy-Bruhl, Primitive Mentality, pp. 273-79 ; Sir J. G. Frazer, The 
Fear of the Dead in Primitive Religion (London 1933-1936), III, 142-98. 

74 James Dawson, Australian Aborigines (Melbourne, 1881), p. 70. 

75 R. Thurnwald, in Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, XLII (1910), 134. The 
Nasioi of Bougainville think that death by violence, either in battle or as the 
result of an accident, is shameful, and that those who come to such an untimely 
end must live apart from the other ghosts in the world beyond the grave (E. 
Frizzi-Miinchen, Ein Beitrag zur Ethnologie von Bougainville und Buka, 
Baessler-Archiv, Beiheft VI, p. 11). 

78 A. W. Nieuwenhuis, Quer durch Borneo (Leiden, 1904-1907), I, 70. 
"/Wtf.,1,91. 

78 A. Henry, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXIII (1903), 
102. 

7 J. P. Mills, The Ao Nagas (London, 1926), p. 283. 

80 J. H. Hutton, The Sema Nagas (London, 1921), p. 262. 

81 A. Playfair, The Garos (London, 1909), p. 105. The Garo believe that 
a man killed by a tiger or an elephant will be reincarnated in the form of the 
animal that caused his death (loc. cit.). 

82 A. B. Ellis, The Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast of West 
Africa (London, 1887), p. 13. In South Africa the drowned man is said to 
have been "called by the river," that is, by the river demons. No attempt is 
made to save a drowning person (J. Macdonald, in Journal of the Anthropo- 
logical Institute, XX [1891], 124 ff.). Similarly, the Greenland Eskimo shrink 
from assisting one of their number who has met with a serious accident at sea 
(Fridtjof Nansen, Eskimo Life [2d ed., London, 1894], p. 137). This fear of 
one who has obviously been doomed to die for his misdeeds is manifested by 
the natives of Kamchatka. We learn from an old writer that if anyone fell 
into the water they thought it a great sin to pull him out; rather ought they 
to keep him down by force until he drowned. Should the poor wight manage 



NATURE OF TABOO 45 

to reach land nobody admits him to a dwelling, or speaks to him, or gives him 
food, for they consider him as being virtually dead. He must either remove 
to a distance or perish of hunger at home (G. W. Steller, Beschreibung von 
dem Lande Kamtschatka [Frankfurt and Leipzig, 1774], p. 295 and note). 

83 P. A. Talbot, Some Nigerian Fertility Cults (Oxford, 1927), pp. 63 f. 
The peoples of Southern Nigeria, it is said, do not recognize the possibility of 
an accident. For every misfortune there must be a reason, either the violation 
of some taboo or the commission of some act which has drawn upon the per- 
son the anger of the gods or the ancestors. When among the Yoruba a person 
is nearly killed by lightning; when among the Ibo a birth takes place in a 
house; or when among the Abuan a death takes place in a house these are 
all instances of punishment by the unseen powers. No consideration is shown 
for the culprit. It is even better for him that his friends should lay additional 
penalties upon him, so that he may more quickly expiate his wrongdoing 
(idem, The Peoples of Southern Nigeria [Oxford, 1926], III, 708 f.). 

84 Andre Arcin, La Guinee franqaise (Paris, 1907), p. 431. 

85 E. Mangin, in Anthropos, IX (1914), 732. 

86 The Gullah Negroes in the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia, 
along with the typically West African belief in multiple souls and a very 
vivid belief in ghosts, have special rites for persons who die by drowning, 
lightning, smallpox, and suicide. See W. R. Bascom, "Acculturation among 
the Gullah Negroes," American Anthropologist (n.s., 1941), XLIII, 49. 

87 The Kayan of Borneo go so far as to distinguish between malan and 
parit y their two words for taboo. Malan applies to acts involving risk to the 
entire community, parit to those involving risk only to the persons committing 
the forbidden acts (Hose and McDougall, op. cit., II, 14, note 1 ; see also p. 125, 
note 1). 

88 The languages of some Melanesian peoples contain special terms differ- 
entiating between an inherent and an imposed state of taboo. In the Banks 
Islands "the difference between a naturally sacred character and that which 
follows upon an authoritative separation from common uses" is marked by 
the use of two words, rongo and tambu, corresponding with which in the New 
Hebrides are sapuga and gogona. A naturally sacred character (rongo r sapuga) 
is derived from the presence of a spirit in an object or from the association of 
a spirit with such an object (Codrington, The Melanesians, p. 181). In the Solo- 
mon Islands this distinction does not seem to be recognized (p. 215). 

89 W. E. Roth, Ethnological Studies among the North- West-Central 
Queensland Aborigines (Brisbane, 1897), p. 57. 

00 C. G. Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea (Cambridge, 
1910), pp. 299 ff. 

91 George Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians (London, 1910), p. 273; 
R. Parkinson, Dreissig Jahre in der Sudsee (Stuttgart, 1907), p. 592. 

92 Codrington, The Melanesians, pp. 75 f., 216. Dr. Rivers points out that 
such a prohibition, or soloi, is not now a taboo or at least is no more than a modi- 
fied or degenerate taboo. Unless its infraction is discovered by the property 
owner or is revealed by confession, the offender suffers no evil consequences. Of 
course, to those not members of the Tamate societies, including women, children, 
and uninitiated men, the soloi shares in the general sense of mystery which be- 
longs to the societies as a whole. An offense against the soloi in their case, as in 
that of initiates, is really punished by their fellow men, but the belief that the 
punishment is inflicted by the ghosts of the dead "brings the whole matter into 
the category of religion" (W. H. R. Rivers, The History of Melanesian Society 
[Cambridge, 1914], II, 410; cf. I, 92 ff.). 



46 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

98 H. B. Guppy, The S.olomon Islands and Their Natives (London, 1887), 
p. 32. 

9 * Ivens, Melanesians of the South-East Solomon Islands, pp. 253 ff. In 
1894 a chief of the village of Saa on the island of Mala tabooed both beach and 
river when his daughter died. No native, in consequence, could get water from 
the river or bathe in it, nor could there be any fishing along the beach (p. 254). 
In San Cristoval chiefs had the right to place a taboo (tongo) on certain streams 
or parts of the sea so that no fishing could take place in them until the taboo was 
removed. After the chiefs death his right to taboo became the property of his 
son. To break a taboo was to steal it, and in the old days many wars are said 
to have been caused by the breaking of a chief's tongo by some other chief 
(C. E. Fox, The Threshold of the Pacific [London, 1924], pp. 297, 303). 

95 Codrington, The Melanesians t pp. 215 f . 

96 Thomas Williams, Fiji and the Fijians (3d ed., London, 1870), pp. 197 f. 
In New Caledonia taboos were both imposed and enforced by the chiefs, who put 
to death those whom they wished to punish for an infraction of their prohibitions 
(Viellard and Deplanche, Essais sur la Nouvelle-Caltdonie [Paris, 1867], p. 67). 

97 Brown, New Zealand and Its Aborigines, p. 13 ; Shortland, Traditions and 
Superstitions of the New Zealanders (2d ed.), p. Ill; Taylor, Te Ika A Maui 
(2d ed.), pp. 168 f.; Old New Zealand, by a Pakeka Maori, pp. 137 ff. The 
custom of judicial robbery of a taboo-breaker or of any offender against tribal 
custom was known in New Zealand as muru ("stripping"). In a rough way 
it corresponded to our law whereby a man is required to pay "damages," only 
the damages were both assessed and collected by the culprit's own friends and 
acquaintances. Great abuses naturally crept into the system, so great, indeed, 
as to make the retention of any sort of personal property almost an impossibility 
and, in great measure, to discourage any inclination to labor for its acquisition. 
Muru is amusingly described by Judge Maning (Old New Zealand, pp. 83 ff.). 
See also Augustus Earle, A Narrative of Nine Months' Residence in New Zea- 
land in 1827 (Christchurch, New Zealand, 1909), p. 84. After the death of a 
clu'ef a stripping party visited the bereaved family and took away everything 
movable, even digging up root crops and spearing and devouring the tame pigs. 
If by any chance the mourners were not so stripped, "they would be sure deeply 
to resent the neglect" (William Colenso, in Transactions and Proceedings of the 
New Zealand Institute [1868], I, 41, separate pagination). The muru custom 
was also observed when a person had met with a serious accident. "Why a 
people," says Mr. Best, "should pay for the privilege of being afflicted by 
some trouble is a somewhat difficult problem for the European mind to solve, 
though it appears to be clear enough to the Maori" (Elsdon Best, ibid. [1905], 
XXXVIII, 206). The explanation lies in the Maori belief that people who 
suffered a grave misfortune were revealed as taboo-breakers. It was the duty of 
their relatives and friends to make sure that they paid the penalty for their mis- 
deeds. Wrongdoing must be expiated. 

98 A. J. von Krusenstern, Voyage Round the World (London, 1813), I, 172, 
referring particularly to the island of Nukuhiva, See also Vincendon-Dumoulin 
and Desgraz, lies Marquises ou Noukahiva (Paris, 1843), p. 262. 

99 E. S. C. Handy, "The Native Culture in the Marquesas," Bernice P. 
Bishop Museum Bulletin, No. 9, p. 259. Such a taboo, based on any color, 
might also be revealed by a god to some highly inspired person. See Mathias 
G [Garcia], Lettres sur les lies Marquises (Paris, 1843), p. 52. 

100 Ellis, Polynesian Researches (2d ed.), IV, 386 f. Cf. J. J. Jarves, History 
of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands (2d ed., Boston, 1843), pp. 56 f * H T 
Cheever, The Island World of the Pacific (Glasgow, [1851]), p. 87 



NATURE OF TABOO 47 

101 "When a person died, his house was thus colored ; when the tapu was 
laid on anything, the chief erected a post and painted it with the kura; wherever 
a corpse rested, some memorial was set up; oftentimes the nearest stone, rock, 
or tree served as a monument; but whatever object was selected, it was sure to 
be made red. If the corpse was conveyed by water, wherever they landed a 
similar token was left ; and when it reached its destination, the canoe was dragged 
on shore, thus distinguished, and abandoned" (Taylor, Te Ika A Maui [2d ed.], 
p. 209). According to another early authority, a place which was made tabu 
for a time might be marked by a wooden image of a man daubed over with 
red earth (A. S. Thomson, The Story of New Zealand [London, 1859], I, 102). 
For numerous instances of the use of blood or red paint to mark sacred or 
tabooed objects see Robert Briffault, The Mothers (New York, 1927), II, 412-17. 

102 Bronislaw Malinowski, Argonauts of the Western Pacific (London, 1922), 
p. 346. 

108 L. Fison, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XIV (1885), 18 f. 

104 Tregear, Maori Race, pp. 278 f. According to another account, the three 
women, besides being well-born, had to be elderly and in perfect health (T. E. 
Donne, The Maori [London, 1927], p. 25). In this ceremony the peculiar taboo- 
lifting function of women of rank seems to be connected with the idea that, while 
they were common because of their sex, they were sacred because of their high 
birth. Hence, their sacredness neutralized that of the house, thus making en- 
trance within it safe for all women. See Margaret Mead, "Social Organization 
of Manua," Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, No. 76, p. 118. A house might 
also be made noa f or common, by a woman who entered the building through the 
window. She ate there some cooked food and then went out through the door- 
way (The Old Time Maori, by Makereti [London, 1938], p. 294). 

105 See E. N. Fallaize, "Purification (Introductory and Primitive)," Hast- 
ings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, X, 455-66; L. R. Farnell, "The Rit- 
ual of Purification and the Conception of Purity," in The Evolution of Religion 
(London, 1905), pp. 88-162; L. Levy-Bruhl, Primitives and the Supernatural 
(London, 1936), pp. 342-95. 

i3 Martin-Mariner, op. cit. (3d ed.), II, 187 f. 

107 E. Best, "Maori Religion and Mythology," Dominion Museum Bulletin, 
No. 10, p. 222. According to Mr. Best, the practice seems to have been due to a 
belief that the innate power (mana) of the male and female generative organs had 
a preservative or curative effect. The Maori also entertained the contrary belief 
as to the harm fulness of generative power, especially of that emanating from 
women. The myths of the Maori assign an inferior position to the female sex, 
which is associated with evil, misfortune, and death (Joe. cit.). See also idem, 
"Maori Beliefs Concerning the Human Organs of Generation," Man, XIV 
(1914), 132 ff. 

108 Shortland, Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders (2d ed.), 
p. 110. 

109 Ernest Dieffenbach, Travels in New Zealand (London, 1843), II, 105. 

110 Ellis, Polynesian Researches (2d ed.), Ill, 110. 

111 William Yate, An Account of New Zealand (2d ed., London, 1835), 
p. 86. 

112 On the transference of all manner of evils to inanimate objects, animals, 
and human beings see Sir J. G. Frazer, The Scapegoat (London, 1913), pp. 1-71, 
224-28 (The Golden Bough [3d ed.], Part VI). 

113 Charles Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition 
(Philadelphia, 1845), II, 99 f. 



48 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

114 David Leslie, Among the Zulus and Amatongas (Edinburgh, 1875), p. 197. 

115 P. Cayzac, "La religion des Kikuyu (Afrique orientale)," Anthropos, V 
(1910), 311. 

116 Elsdon Best, "Maori Religion and Mythology/* Dominion Museum Bul- 
letin, No. 10, p. 199. See also Taylor, Te Ika A Maui (2d ed.), p. 101. As Mr. 
Best points out, the object of the temporary scapegoat's immersion seems to have 
been to insulate him completely from the evil influence which had been trans- 
ferred to the fern stalk. 

nTJohn Roscoe, The Baganda (London, 1911), pp. 109, 200. The sacred 
fire which burned night and day at the entrance to the king's enclosure was ex- 
tinguished at his death and the chief in charge of it was strangled by the fire- 
place (p. 103). 

118 As Sir James Frazer observes, beating or scourging as a religious or 
ceremonial rite was originally a mode of purification. "It was meant to wipe 
off and drive away a dangerous contagion, whether personified or not, which was 
supposed to be adhering physically, though invisibly, to the body of the suf- 
ferer. The pain inflicted on the person beaten was no more the object of the 
beating than it is of a surgical operation ; it was a necessary accident, that was 
all. In later times such customs were interpreted otherwise, and the pain, from 
being an accident, became the prime object of the qeremony, which was now 
regarded either as a test of endurance imposed upon persons at critical epochs 
of life, or as a mortification of the flesh well pleasing to the god. But asceticism, 
under any shape or form, is never primitive." See Frazer, Balder the Beautiful 
(London, 1913), I, 65, in The Golden Bough (3d ed., Part VII). On flagellation 
as a mode of dispelling evil influences generally, see idem, The Scapegoat (pp. 
259 ff.), in ibid., Part VI. 

" Dudley Kidd, The Essential Kafir (2d ed., London, 1925), pp. 257 f. 



CHAPTER II 
THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 



THE processes of generation and reproduction, so mysterious to 
us, are still more mysterious to the savage. His ignorance of 
them is profound. Little wonder, therefore, that for him a 
woman's ability to produce children indicates her possession of 
occult power and that both pregnancy and parturition should be 
regarded as extremely dangerous conditions, when numberless 
precautions must be taken to safeguard woman and child, hus- 
band and household, and, not seldom, the entire social group. 1 

Many pregnancy regulations of a precautionary character are 
sympathetic prohibitions. An expectant mother may be subjected 
to various food restrictions, sometimes for her own good but 
more often for the good of the child. What is usually feared is 
the transmission of specific qualities or characteristics of the for- 
bidden object. A Papuan woman avoids fat foods during her 
pregnancy lest the child be a monstrosity, and she does not smoke 
tobacco lest the child be stillborn. In one African tribe no preg- 
nant woman may eat hot food, because the natives believe that 
the child stretches out its hand to take the food swallowed by the 
mother and it will be scalded thereby. In another African tribe 
a woman while pregnant must not eat goose lest her child have 
the long neck of that fowl, and she must also avoid the flesh of 
the hartebeest, because that animal gives birth to its young blind, 
and if she ate it her child would likewise be born blind. The hus- 
band's diet is sometimes restricted for similar reasons, but the 
prohibitions observed by him usually affect his everyday actions 
and pursuits; for instance, he may be forbidden to take violent 
exercise or climb trees or mount the house roof, lest his wife 
have a miscarriage. Similar ideas also account for numberless 
other precautions. Thus, during pregnancy both husband and 
wife avoid turning a lock lest the child's fingers become bent and 
powerless; no knots are tied by them, for that would mean a 
difficult delivery. In none of these cases are we dealing with 
taboos. A violation of the customary regulations may excite 

49 



50 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

social disapproval or even lead to some measure of ostracism; 
it does not result in defilement for the parents, nor does it require 
their ceremonial purification. 

But pregnancy is also regarded as a state of ritual unclean- 
ness in which the woman is exposed to the assaults of evil spirits, 
to witchcraft, and to malefic influences generally. In the Gilbert 
or Kingsmill Islands of Micronesia "when a woman was known 
to be pregnant, the greatest care was taken to conceal her condi- 
tion from all outsiders Remnants of her food, toilet ma- 
terials, old clothes, and all other things closely connected with 
her person were burned as soon as might be, for through such 
things some foreign sorcerer might most easily bring evil upon 
her." 2 

In some islands of the Malay Archipelago a pregnant woman 
never leaves the house without a knife with which to frighten 
away evil spirits. 3 Among the Battak of Sumatra pregnant women 
put protective images in their hair ; hence such women are called 
"those who are wearing amulets upon their heads." 4 As soon as 
a Basuto woman is with child a sheep is sacrificed, and the skin 
of the animal is made into an apron, which serves to screen her 
from witchcraft. 5 Perhaps the same purpose explains a curious 
custom of the Wataveta of Eastern Equatorial Africa. When 
signs of pregnancy are shown by a woman, a deep fringe of tiny 
iron chains is hung over her eyes. It hides her face and also pre- 
vents her from seeing clearly. 6 

The Ga people of the Gold Coast consider it very necessary 
that a pregnant woman should protect herself against witches, 
who are wont to prey on the spirits of unborn children. So she 
proceeds to wash herself in water containing a powerful herb and 
small pinches of every kind of food which anyone can suggest 
or contribute, whether the eatables are those of the tribe or for- 
eign or European in origin. The idea is that, however catholic in 
her eating, the witch will discover that her own food has been 
included in the decoction. "The food with which the woman 
bathed then protects her by saying to the witch, 'I am your own 
food. You cannot hurt me without hurting yourself. " 7 

Some restrictions imposed upon a pregnant woman are in- 
tended to protect the community against her occult power. The 
natives of Geelvink Bay in Dutch New Guinea do not allow her 
to engage in planting, lest the crop be destroyed by wild pigs. 8 
The Bukaua forbid her to walk on the seashore or near the mouth 
of a river; if she did so, her blood would kill all the fish. 9 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 51 

Among the Maori the child of a woman of the highest rank 
was tapu even before its birth. Consequently, the expectant 
mother was not allowed to perform any laborious work. More 
especially was she forbidden to carry any food products on her 
back; to do so would have had a most injurious influence on the 
unborn child. The Maori believed that the proximity of food 
products to tapu persons, objects, and places polluted them. 10 

The Bechuana do not allow a pregnant woman to enter a hut 
where there has been a recent birth. Nor may she go into a sick- 
room, not even that of her own husband. Nevertheless, if a sick 
husband is very anxious to see his wife when she is with child a 
meeting between them can be arranged. It is necessary, however, 
for a magician to make a mixture of powdered charcoal, fat, and 
the woman's urine and anoint the sick man's body with this pro- 
tective salve. Then he may safely receive her. 11 The Ba-ila of 
Northern Rhodesia think it often necessary to protect a sick per- 
son against the "baneful influences" emanating from pregnant 
women and those that have had a miscarriage. A shed is built 
in the forest and there the patient lives while being doctored. 12 
A pregnant woman is dangerous in many other ways. If she 
enters a hut where a child has just been born, its skull will part 
asunder; if she passes through a calabash garden, the calabashes 
will drop off their stalks or split; if she passes a tree laden with 
fruit, the fruit will fall to the ground; if she goes near a litter 
of pups, their heads will split and they will die; if she goes near 
a hen sitting on a nest of eggs, these will all crack. 18 Among the 
Wabena, an East African tribe, a pregnant woman who meets a 
sick person must silently sprinkle water on his back; otherwise 
"his heart will stand still within him and his sickness will increase 
and he will die." Should this take place, the woman would be 
held responsible and be liable to pay blood money. When rain is 
about to fall, a pregnant woman must go indoors, hide under a 
blanket, and keep silent until the rain is over; otherwise there 
will be a fearful thunderstorm and the village will probably be 
destroyed by lightning. 14 

The Safwa, another East African tribe, do not allow a preg- 
nant woman to sit on a piece of firewood which belongs to the 
men; if she did so it would be thrown away as being unclean. 
Nor must she sit on the footstool in the hut. Her husband at this 
time does not sleep at home, but in the public house of the village. 
He takes there his guns and spears; if these weapons remained in 
the hut with his pregnant wife he never henceforth could kill any 



52 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

game with them. 15 The Konde of Nyasaland require a pregnant 
woman to keep away from growing crops, from food that is being 
cooked, and from beer that is being brewed. 16 Among the Banyoro 
of Uganda a pregnant woman must not come near clay pots when 
drying; otherwise they would break when being baked. 17 

The Uaupes of Brazil believe that if a pregnant woman were 
to eat meat a domestic animal or tame bird partaking of it would 
die, a dog would become incapable of hunting, and a man would 
ever after be unable to shoot that particular kind of game. 18 The 
Arawak forbid her to eat game caught by hunting dogs; if she 
did so, these would never be able to hunt again. 19 By the Yakut of 
northern Siberia a pregnant woman is considered in some sense 
unclean. She spoils the gun of a hunter and lessens the good for- 
tune of a handicraftsman. 20 

Not only the pregnant woman but also her husband may some- 
times be subject to restrictions. Among the Kiwai Papuans no 
man whose wife was pregnant or menstruating could join the 
turtle fleet. "If such a one were to do so the turtle on seeing him 
would know about him and would sink to the bottom of the 
sea." 21 A man of the Yabim tribe does not go fishing during his- 
wife's pregnancy, for the fish would flee his presence and the 
sea would become agitated. 22 The Monumbo, another Papuan 
tribe, subject a man to so many restrictions during his wife's 
pregnancy and confinement and while she is nursing that he is 
virtually a pariah, shunned by everybody. 28 In New Ireland a 
man with a pregnant wife must not go on fishing expeditions or 
wild pig hunts. If he does so, he will meet with no success. Nor 
may he engage in warfare. 24 Among the Sea Dayak of Borneo 
a man is not entirely prevented from working because of his 
wife's pregnancy, but he must first get someone to start the work 
for him if he is to carry it on with a fair chance of success. This 
disability endures after the birth of the child until it cuts its first 
teeth. 25 The Bechuana of South Africa believe that an elephant 
will single out a man whose wife is pregnant and will ruthlessly 
attack him. 26 

The very general avoidance of sexual intercourse between 
husband and wife, either during the entire pregnancy or toward 
the latter part of it, seems to be usually motivated by fear of the 
impurity of women at this time: disobedience would result in 
sickness, deformity, or even death for the child ; the mother would 
produce no milk or sour milk; the father would be unsuccessful 
in hunting and fishing. 27 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 53 

On the other hand, sexual intercourse may sometimes be re- 
quired during pregnancy even until the time of childbirth. The 
Wik Monkan, a tribe of the Northern Territory of Australia, 
are firmly persuaded that repeated sexual acts are necessary to 
build up the baby from the seminal fluid. 28 The Mountain Ara- 
pesh of British New Guinea entertain a somewhat similar belief. 
It is their idea that the mother's blood, no longer issuing forth 
in the menstrual flow, becomes half of the material of the child's 
body, and that the other half is made of semen. For the first two 
months of pregnancy, there must be continual cohabitation in 
order to build up the child, but as soon as the mother's breasts show 
discoloration it must cease, for the infant is now "fast" in the 
womb. 29 

The Kgatla of the Bechuanaland Protectorate, who also at- 
tribute a woman's pregnancy to the mixing of her menstrual 
blood with her husband's semen, believe that he will not be in- 
jured by connection with her. In fact, he is expected to approach 
his wife frequently, in order that his semen may continue to add 
to the flesh of the child growing in her womb. However, should 
someone not responsible for her pregnancy sleep with her, her 
husband would be injuriously affected. A woman pregnant by 
a lover sometimes refuses, therefore, to cohabit with her husband 
lest she harm him, in which case he readily suspects that she has 
been unfaithful to him. 30 

The Tswana generally continue sexual intercourse right up 
to the wife's confinement, so that the husband's "blood" (his 
semen) may help to strengthen the child in its mother's womb. 81 
The same view as to the necessity of continual sexual intercourse 
for the growth of the fetus is entertained by the Azande (Niam- 
Niam). This notion, it is said, may help to account for the ex- 
traordinary attachment which exists between husband and wife 
among the Azande. 32 Among the Ekoi and other tribes of South- 
ern Nigeria it is customary for husband and wife to cohabit more 
often during the latter's pregnancy than at other times. Cohabi- 
tation is continued until the moment of birth, for the delivery of 
the child is believed to be thereby expedited. 38 

Being in a state of taboo, a woman may be required to live 
in seclusion during a part or the whole of her pregnancy. In the 
Marquesas Islands a special birth house was built, and the hus- 
band remained there with his wife as a protection against evil 
spirits until the time of her confinement drew near. 34 In the 
Caroline Islands not only was the woman secluded but she was 



54 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

also wrapped up in mats from head to foot until the birth of her 
child. 35 Seclusion among the Toda takes place at or about the 
fifth month of pregnancy. The woman then retires to a special 
hut which has been built near the village, the distance depending 
upon the degree of sanctity of the village. She stays there for 
nearly a month, and purificatory rites are performed over her. 
While in seclusion she is visited by relatives and friends, who 
do not venture to come near the hut but speak to her from some 
way off. She now returns home and resumes her normal activi- 
ties, but after the birth she must again go to the hut for another 
period of seclusion and purification. 86 Among some Lower Congo 
tribes, as soon as women become pregnant, they take up their 
quarters in huts built at a distance from the village and there re- 
main until the children are weaned. 87 

At the time of childbirth the mother's mystic dangerousness 
is redoubled in intensity and the need for precautionary measures 
becomes all the more imperious. She may be required to give 
birth in the open air and not in the house, or to retire to some 
secluded spot away from the community. She may be allowed 
no assistance or only that of female relatives or friends. In the 
Buandik tribe of South Australia the wife went far away from 
home to be confined. The husband did not receive her until her 
days of purification were over. 88 An Arunta woman, when her 
child is about to be born, leaves her husband's camp, and goes to 
that special part of the main camp which may not be entered or 
even approached by men. She remains there for three or four 
weeks after childbirth. The father is not allowed to see the child 
until the mother returns to her husband's camp. 89 

Among the Mountain Arapesh of British New Guinea a birth 
must take place "over the edge of the village." In bad weather, 
or where the bush does not provide shelter, a temporary birth 
house is erected. Any woman may act as midwife, except the 
pregnant woman's own mother, who would become blind if she 
witnessed her daughter's delivery. Lochial blood is impure. None 
of it must fall on the village ground. If it was eaten by pigs they 
would go wild and devastate the yam gardens. 40 

In Wogeo, one of the Schouten Islands, all contact with a 
parturient woman is avoided during the two months that she 
remains in seclusion. If she should die in childbirth or after it 
no mourning rites are held for her, and while she is being buried 
by the nearest relatives all the other villagers retire to the bush. 
The natives account for these taboos as being due to the lochia 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 55 

"because of the blood." 41 In the island of Tumleo, off the north- 
eastern coast of New Guinea, the mother is secluded for from five 
to eight days, but only after the birth of her first child. No man, 
not even her husband, may see her at this time. The luckless man 
who did so would swell up and die. 42 The people of Mala, one 
of the Solomons, do not allow the parturient mother to be touched 
by any of the women accompanying her. Should a woman do 
so she must go into thirty days' seclusion along with the mother. 43 

In the Marquesas Islands the fear of the birth contamination 
was so great that if an accidental delivery occurred in the family 
dwelling it was destroyed by fire, just as was done when a death 
occurred in it. 44 On account of the tapu pertaining to both birth 
and death among the Maori, few persons were ever born or ever 
died in a dwelling house in New Zealand. A woman of inferior 
status was usually delivered in the open air. A woman of rank 
had her confinement in the "nest house/' a dwelling placed at 
some distance from the settlement and tabooed against the in- 
trusion of slaves and commoners. After the mother, her child, 
and the attendants had quitted the house, it was destroyed, and 
all objects in it were burned by the priest. 45 

The Visayan of the Philippines remove everything from the 
house when a birth is about to take place in it, just as is customary 
when a person is dying there; unless this were done the weapons 
and fishing nets would be useless and the fighting cocks their 
most highly prized possession would no longer be able to fight. 46 
In the Nicobar Islands an expectant mother retires to a birth 
house and takes her husband with her. She remains there until 
after the birth of her child, sometimes for as long as six months. 
If she gave birth in a dwelling house, it would become unclean and 
would be pulled down. 47 

Among the Hottentots the husband quitted his hut as soon as 
his wife's pains came on and did not return until she had been 
delivered. Should he do so, he would be adjudged unclean and 
have to forfeit a sheep as a "cleansing." 48 In the Ba-ila tribe of 
Northern Rhodesia "it is taboo for a woman to give birth in a 
hut; were she to do so and the child be born dead, she would 
suffer heavy penalties: her husband might enslave her and her 
children, unless they were redeemed by her clansmen. All grain 
and medicines in the hut would have been contaminated, and 
hence would be destroyed." 40 In the Quissama tribe of Angola 
a woman, when her labor pains begin, goes alone into the forest 
and remains there until the child is born. She may then return 



56 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

home, but the infant continues to be secluded for a time. 60 The 
Fan of French Equatorial Africa allow no male person to be 
present at a confinement. Not even the father, the husband, or 
the medicine man may enter the house at this time. 81 

Among the Araucanian Indians of southern Chile women 
were formerly not allowed to give birth within the village, "as 
it was considered to cause infectious diseases." 52 Among the Co- 
roado of Brazil a woman must give birth in a carefully secluded 
spot in the depth of the forest, and special care is taken to pro- 
tect the place from moonlight. 83 The Uaupes, when a birth occurs 
in a house, take everything out of it, including their pots and 
pans and bows and arrows; otherwise these objects would be 
affected by uncleanness and would have to be destroyed. 84 

Among the Central Eskimo a small hut or snow house is 
built for the parturient woman, and here she awaits her delivery. 
She may be visited by friends, but even these must leave her 
when the birth takes place. 58 The Tlingit Indians of Alaska re- 
quire a mother to give birth in the open air, however inclement 
the season may be. She is then allowed to enter a rude shelter, 
where she remains for ten days. 58 Among the Point Barrow 
Eskimo, women about to be confined are always isolated. In 
winter they occupy a little snow hut; in summer, a little tent. 87 
The Eskimo about Bering Strait isolate a woman as unclean only 
when she is bearing her first child. 58 

Among the Chukchi of northeastern Siberia, when confine- 
ment approaches, no stranger may enter the inner family room 
and even near relatives of the male sex must keep away. When 
labor begins, all males, not even excepting small children, leave 
the room and do not return until every trace of the birth has been 
removed. 69 A Gilyak woman "never dares" to give birth to a 
child at home; she must, in spite of the severity of the season or 
stormy weather, go out of the hut for the purpose. A special hut 
is prepared for her, but it is very uncomfortable and both mother 
and child suffer from the exposure to the elements. 60 

After delivery takes place the woman's household is often 
placed under an interdict, which may also involve the entire com- 
munity. Among some Victoria tribes, though the woman remains 
in her husband's shelter, he himself must live elsewhere. Indeed, 
the entire settlement is temporarily abandoned when a birth oc- 
curs, only two married women remaining to care for the patient 
in her time of trial. 61 

Among the Yabim, a tribe in what was formerly German 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 57 

New Guinea, the inhabitants of a village stay at home on the 
morning after the birth of a child. This is regarded as a neces- 
sary precaution if the fruits of the fields and gardens are not to 
be spoiled by the noxious influences emanating from a woman 
in childbed. 62 Among the Sulka of New Britain not only are the 
men of a village in need of purification after a birth has occurred 
in it, but their weapons and the cuttings of the plants they are 
about to put in the ground require similar treatment. 63 In Efate, 
one of the New Hebrides, the men keep away from the house in 
which a birth has taken place. This restriction applies only to 
the day of birth. They say that otherwise they "would contract 
the ninam or uncleanness and that in consequence 'their eyes 
would be darkened (that is, they would be weak) in war,' and 
that if, having contracted it, they went to their plantations, the 
yams would rot." 84 In Ceram, one of the Moluccas, it is taboo 
for the inhabitants of a village to go to their plantations for 
three days after a birth has taken place. 65 

The Garo of Assam consider the impurity of childbirth so 
contaminating that it is forbidden for anybody to go near a cul- 
tivated tract of land on the day when a child is born in the vil- 
lage. They think that whatever crop is visited on such a day will 
be cursed and blighted. This is said to be the only instance among 
the Garo of a taboo which affects the community as a whole. 68 

The Naga tribes have numerous taboos (gennd), some affect- 
ing single households only and others being extended to the com- 
munity at large. Household genna are observed for various rea- 
sons, of which one is the birth of children or of domesticated 
animals. The restrictions apply to all the normal inmates and to 
any others, such as midwives, who may be temporarily members 
of the family. 67 When a birth occurs in a Zulu kraal all the in- 
habitants "eat medicine, i.e., something to protect themselves from 
any evil influence. They do the same on the occasion of a death." 68 
Among the Amaxosa the food of a lying-in woman is taboo to 
men. A man who ate it would be reduced to the weakness of an 
infant. 69 

We might expect to find, and we do sometimes find, that the 
impurity of a parturient woman is supposed to be most pro- 
nounced when she has a miscarriage or is delivered of a stillborn 
child. Some Bantu-speaking tribes of South Africa, including 
the Thonga and Pedi, believe that a woman's miscarriage makes 
the whole country impure and brings on a drought. "Let me 
quote," writes the missionary Junod, "the ipsissima verba of 



58 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Mankhelu, the great medicine-man of the Nkuna Court. I shall 
never forget the earnest tone of his voice, his deep conviction 
when .he uttered to me the following words, as a kind of revela- 
tion. When a woman has had a miscarriage, when she has let 
her blood flow secretly and has buried the abortive child in an 
unknown place, it is enough to make the burning winds blow, 
and to dry up all the land: the rain can no longer fall, because 
the country is no longer right. Rain fears that spot. It must 
stop at that very place and can go no farther. This woman has 
been very guilty. She has spoilt the country of the chief because 
she has hidden blood which has not yet properly united to make 
a human being. That blood is taboo! What she has done is 
taboo. It causes starvation'." 70 

The Amaxosa believe that if their cattle should cross the 
tracks of a woman who has had a miscarriage they will become 
weak and die. Accordingly, her husband prepares a medicine 
as an antidote, and this she has to administer to each animal. 71 
Bavenda men are firmly convinced that if they have sexual rela- 
tions with women who have miscarried, they will die of con- 
sumption. 72 The Barotse require a woman who is delivered of a 
stillborn child to live for a month in a grass hut outside the vil- 
lage. She may return home after her purification, but her hus- 
band does not sleep with her until she has had intercourse with 
some other man. 78 The Ba-ila regard a woman who has had a 
miscarriage as very dangerous. A man may acquire a certain 
disease from cohabiting with her, from smoking her pipe, or 
even from walking near the place where the fetus was buried. So 
contagious is the disease that a woman after a miscarriage must 
not enter a hut until she has been purified. Her husband will not 
resume cohabitation with her until she has had connection with 
another man to whom she thereby transfers the disease. 74 

Among the Bakaonde a woman who has had a miscarriage 
or has a stillborn child cannot touch any fire except her own, or 
any dishes and other household articles. She must retire to a 
shelter on the outskirts of the village, where she stays until her 
breasts are dry. Then the shelter is set on fire, while the woman 
is still inside it. She rushes out and goes to a river for a purifica- 
tory bath in which certain herbs are placed. Having donned new 
clothes, she returns to the village and resumes marital relations 
with her husband. Still other ceremonies are proscribed for her 
husband and herself before every taint of evil is removed from 
the village and its inhabitants. 76 Among the Ngumba of the 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 59 

Cameroons a woman who bears a dead child is treated as doubly 
unclean. 76 

The Bribri Indians of Costa Rica require the usual seclusion 
of a woman in childbed, but her pollution (bukuru) is especially 
deadly if she miscarries or gives birth to a stillborn child. She is 
then considered so dangerous that all contact with things she has 
used is avoided, and her food is passed to her at the end of a 
long stick. 77 

The Eskimo of Baffin Land think that the body of a lying-in 
woman exhales a vapor which would adhere to the souls of seals 
if she ate the flesh of any seals except those caught by her hus- 
band, by a boy, or by an aged man. "Cases of premature birth 
require particularly careful treatment. The event must be an- 
nounced publicly, else dire results will follow. If a woman should 
conceal from the other people that she has had a premature birth, 
they might come near her, or even eat in her hut of the seals 
procured by her husband. The vapor arising from her would 
thus affect them, and they would be avoided by the seals." 78 
Among the Polar Eskimo miscarriages are very frequent, per- 
haps as a result of too early marriages. A woman so unfortunate 
as to have one is subject to numberless restrictions, and these are 
only removed when the sun is in the same part of the heavens 
as when she suffered her affliction. It is believed highly dangerous 
for a woman to keep her miscarriage a secret, in order to avoid 
the severe penance involved. She may fall ill herself or she may 
bring misfortune upon the whole community, through the failure 
of the fishing or some assault of the forces of nature. 79 
! When children are born deformed in any way or with some 
striking abnormality, the mothers may be subjected to more than 
the usual restrictions and their offspring not allowed to live. 80 
The Basuto put to death children born with feet first and those 
who cut their upper before their lower teeth. 81 Bavenda children 
born feet first or with any deformity are killed by the midwives, 
who pour boiling water over them. Such children are often buried 
inside the hut near the wall, so that their bodies will be in per- 
petual shade. Should the sun ever shine on their remains, the 
mother would be afflicted with abdominal pains. 82 

The Bambwela of Northern Rhodesia think that a child who 
cuts its upper teeth before its lower ones is a herald of great evil 
in store for both parents and relatives. Before the English ad- 
ministration of the country there was a strong feeling that such 
a child should not be allowed to live. The mother herself would 



60 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

> 

put it out of the way, either by drowning it or by thrusting it 
head first into an ant-bear hole. Such murders do not now take 
place, but in their stead a rite is practiced whereby the village 
is purified from the evil spirit manifest in the unhappy infant. 
There is ceremonial beer drinking by the village folk, though not 
by the parents and relatives ; cessation of all work during the day ; 
and a general abstention from sexual intercourse that night. This 
rite performed, the child should suffer no disability whatever, but 
the older people are still inclined to find in its preservation the 
origin of the ills which may afflict them. 83 The Bakaonde of 
Northern Rhodesia require that a child cutting its upper incisors 
before its lower ones be thrown into the river. Such a child 
would be very dangerous if allowed to live. Every time one of 
its milk teeth fell out or one of its nails came off someone would 
die. The mother who tried to hide the child's condition and did 
not kill it would be constructively guilty of murdering many 
people, a risk she dares not take. But sometimes the child is pre- 
served. The mother may be allowed to put into a calabash all 
its teeth as these come out, all loose nails, all nail parings, and all 
shorn hair. When the last milk tooth has been added to the col- 
lection in the calabash she places this on her back, as she would 
carry a baby, and wrapped in the same cloth in which the child 
had been carried. Then she goes to the river and drops the cala- 
bash into the water, just as she would have done with the real 
child, that is, by loosening the cloth and letting the baby fall into 
the stream. She does not look around, but as she hears the splash 
of the calabash she calls out, "Here is the lutala" (the tabooed 
child.) 84 

The Akikuyu of Kenya used to strangle a child born feet 
first and bury it at the crossroads and not in the family cemetery. 
Were such a child allowed to live it would grow up to be a thief 
or a murderer, a disgrace to its parents. 85 Among the Ibo of 
Nigeria children born with teeth, or with hand or foot first, crip- 
pled children, and those who cut the upper before the lower teeth 
were destroyed or disposed of to slave dealers. 88 

The Cayenne Indians of Guiana decided the fate of a child 
as soon as it was born. If it had any physical defect, it was killed 
without pity and buried without ceremony; hence, no dwarfs, 
hunchbacks, lame persons, or cripples were to be seen in a Cay- 
enne community. 87 Pima children born deformed were taken by 
the midwife, who allowed them to die of exposure and lack of 
nourishment. "So strong was the feeling of the Pimas against 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 61 

the abnormal that they tried in recent years to kill a grown man 
who had six toes." 88 

The custom of putting twins to death, or one of them at least, 
is extremely common and widespread. Various reasons have 
been alleged for doing so, particularly the difficulty and extra trou- 
ble of rearing two infants at once. Twins are sometimes regarded 
as an indication of unfaithfulness on the mother's part, because 
of the notion that two children born at the same time cannot 
have one father. They are also sometimes supposed to have been 
engendered by an evil spirit, which entered the mother. This 
animistic explanation is obviously associated with the fears and 
forebodings excited by the abnormality of twins. Being ab- 
normal, they are dangerous, and, being dangerous, radical meas- 
ures must be taken to preserve the community from their malefic 
influence. 80 

The tribes of Central Australia usually destroy twins at once 
because of their uncanniness. 90 In the Solomon Islands and the 
Bismarck Archipelago one of the twins the first-born is killed. 
Were this not done, both would die. The child is killed by its 
grandmother and is immediately buried. No men are allowed 
to witness these proceedings. 91 

In Nias, when a mother gives birth to twins, they are usually 
killed, but in the Mentawei Islands their lives are spared. No 
great harm is held to have been done. "Some people think, how- 
ever, in the case of girl and boy twins, that the pair will not live 
long, because they have come into too close contact with each 
other in the womb/' 92 For the low-caste people of Bali, who com- 
prise the great majority of the inhabitants of the island, the birth 
of boy and girl twins constitutes a great calamity. Famine and 
disaster to the entire village can be averted only by the temporary 
banishment of the mother and her children, followed by purifi- 
catory rites and offerings to the evil spirits. When these have 
been completed and the twins have become mature, they are 
allowed to marry, for their incestuous connection in the mother's 
womb is believed to have been already atoned for. 93 The Battak 
of Sumatra think that twins, especially when of different sexes, 
betoken bad luck. It is feared that when they grow up they will 
commit incest with each other. They are often killed or are al- 
lowed to die from lack of care. 94 The Kayan of Borneo kill one 
of the twins, generally the girl, if they are of different sexes. 
This is done to preserve the life of the survivor, for the Kayan 
think that, should both be spared, any misfortune affecting the 



62 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

one would be transferred to the other, because of the sympathetic 
bond believed to exist between them. 95 

The Bontoc Igorot of northern Luzon "do not understand 
twins." Carabaos (water buffalo) have only one offspring at 
birth; so why should women have two offspring, they ask. The 
natives believe that one of the two children is the progeny of an 
anitOy a spirit of a dead person. The more quiet of the twins, or, 
if they are equally quiet, the larger one, is at once placed in a 
water jar and buried alive. 96 

The Khasi of Assam argue that as they have but one First 
Ancestress and one First Ancestor, so one child, either male or 
female, should be born at one time. A twin birth is accordingly re- 
garded as the punishment for a transgression committed by some 
member of the clan. "When the twins are of opposite sexes the 
sang [taboo] is considered to be extremely serious, the Khasi idea 
being that defilement has taken place within the womb." 97 

The Malagasy considered twins very unlucky. One of them 
would often be sent away to be brought up elsewhere or would 
be put to death as soon as born. 98 

The Zulu and other South African peoples manifested great 
horror of twins and usually put them to death. Now that British 
rule has extended throughout the country the killing of twins is 
forbidden, but the practice is difficult to put down because of the 
secrecy which invests it. People do not like to talk about twins, 
and the fact of their existence is hidden, if possible, by the par- 
ents. A mother who bears twins is taunted with belonging to a 
disgraceful family; in the old days, if she bore them a second 
time, she was killed as a monstrosity. 99 Among the Bavenda of 
the Transvaal twins were killed immediately after birth, either 
by the midwife or the mother. Their bodies were placed in one 
pot, which was buried in a damp place by the riverside. If this 
were not done, the natives feared that the land would be afflicted 
by a drought. 100 

Among the Thonga, twins (and triplets) arouse the same 
terror as children prematurely born. Twins are a calamity for 
the whole land because they prevent the rain from falling. In 
former times one of the children was put to death ; now the mother 
and her offspring must leave the village immediately and live in 
a miserable little hut apart from the inhabitants. Until her pre- 
liminary purification by the medicine man, no one in the village 
must eat anything, and on the day after this rite all work in the 
fields is tabooed. The woman's uncleanness continues until her 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 63 

final purification. She lives absolutely shut off from the com- 
munity ; she has her own utensils and does her own cooking ; and 
people speak to her only from a distance. "Women fear that, if 
they touch anything belonging to the mother of twins, if they 
smear themselves with her provision of fat, or if the defiled one 
smears herself with their fat, they will also incur the dreadful 
misfortune of giving birth to twins." 101 The Herero of south- 
western Africa think that twins are a manifestation of the dis- 
pleasure of "Heaven," affecting the whole tribe and calling, 
therefore, for a ceremonial purification of everybody. This is 
performed by the parents of the twins, who collect a fortune 
from the fines which all must pay to regain the celestial favor. 102 

In former days the Afungwe, a Lake Nyasa tribe, seem to 
have put twins in a basket at the crossroads and to have left them 
there to die. Now the exposure is merely a ceremonial act and the 
twins are preserved, though the basket is still left at the cross- 
roads. Upon returning to the village, the father must mix the 
blood of a goat with a medicine prepared by the doctor and then 
must sprinkle the liquid in front of each house in the village, over 
the grain bins, the pigeon cots, and the goat pen, and, lastly, over 
the cattle kraal. Were this not done, a blight would fall on the 
village; the inhabitants would fall seriously ill and swell up all 
over, the grain would rot, and the cattle would die. 108 

Among the Akamba of Kenya, if a woman bears twins the 
first time she has children, the twins are thahu, or ceremonially 
unclean. An old woman of the village, generally the midwife, 
stuffs grass in their mouths until they are suffocated and then 
thrqws them out into the bush. If a cow or a goat bears twins 
the first time, the same practice is followed. But neither human 
nor animal twins are thus treated when they appear at a second 
or still later birth. 104 Among the Nandi, another East African 
tribe, the mother of twins is ceremonially unclean for the rest of 
her life. She remains in the same state of permanent taboo as 
the murderer of a fellow clansman. The woman is given her own 
cow and is not allowed to touch the milk or blood of any other 
animal. She may not enter a house until she has sprinkled a cala- 
bash of water on the ground, and she may never again cross the 
threshold of a cattle kraal. 105 The Wawanga of Mount Elgon 
(Kenya) do not permit the mother of twins to look at a cow with 
a calf, for fear lest the cow's milk should dry up. She must not cut 
grain at harvest time or sow seed in the plantations without tak- 
ing special precautions against her impurity. If she passes by 



64 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

fermented grain used for making beer, she must spit on it and 
take some in her mouth and restore it to the pile ; otherwise the 
beer will be spoiled. She smears white clay on her temples and 
forehead whenever she visits a neighboring village, to counteract 
the effects of her evil presence. She does the same when she goes 
to sow or to reap. 106 

The Abongo or Ishogo of French Equatorial Africa confine 
the mother of twins in her hut and forbid her to communicate 
with her neighbors. Only her parents may enter the hut as long 
as her seclusion continues; a stranger who did so would be sold 
as a slave. To prevent an accident of this sort, the hut is always 
indicated by a particular sign. Twins are kept apart from other 
children until six years of age or older, when they are ceremoni- 
ally admitted into the life of the community. 107 In Calabar 
twins are put to death, and their mother often shares the same 
fate. Sometimes she is driven into the bush and left to perish 
miserably. The father may also be expelled, but he is allowed to 
return to society upon payment of a fine. By some tribes a village 
is built in the outskirts of each town, and there the mothers of 
twins live for the rest of their days. 108 Among the Bassari of 
Togoland, if the twins are the first-born children, then one is kept 
and the other is buried alive. When the twins are of different 
sexes, then the boy is kept ; if of the same sex, then the stronger 
child. A woman who has borne twins is not permitted to approach 
a farm at the time of sowing and reaping, lest she destroy the 
crops. Only after the birth of another child may she take part in 
agricultural labor. 109 

Among the Edo of Southern Nigeria, when twins have been 
born in a village, no one may eat or make a fire there until they 
have been destroyed. 110 By the Ibo twins are destroyed without 
delay, and at the same time reproaches are heaped upon the 
stricken mother. Her own attitude toward them is as scornful 
as that of her relatives, and she refuses even to look at them. The 
natives sometimes say that a twin birth is contrary to the nature 
of human beings. There must be a difference between mankind 
and the brute creation. To function as an animal is to degrade 
humanity. Twins are the punishment for some neglect on the 
part of the mother (or the father) to offer sacrifices or to perform 
the prescribed funeral rites. They may also be the punishment 
for some crime committed but unconfessed, particularly murder. 
"The visitation of twins is a sort of detective agency bringing 
past crimes to light." Whatever the cause of the visitation, the 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 65 

unwanted children must be removed from the village without 
delay. To allow them to live would be to court disaster. So they 
are crammed alive into an old water pot, which is deposited in 
the bush. 111 

The practice of killing twins either both of them or only 
the second seems to be general among the aborigines of South 
America, who look upon two children at a birth as a most un- 
natural and ominous occurrence. 112 Some Amazonian Indians 
kill one of the twins because, as they declare, it is only animals 
who bear more than one at a birth, "and the Indian's aversion to 
anything resembling the brute creation is intense/ 1113 Among the 
Kobeua of northwestern Brazil, if the twins are of the same sex 
it is the second one which is immediately killed after birth; if 
one is a boy and the other a girl it is the latter which is sacri- 
ficed. 114 

The custom of twin-killing among the Saliva Indians of Co- 
lombia seems to find an explanation in the native conception of the 
soul. These Indians believe that when a child is born the father 
loses part of his soul. When two children appear at a birth the 
father suffers a double loss, which may prove fatal to him. He is 
very angry with his wife, for he thinks that she bore twins pur- 
posely in order to tear his soul in pieces, bring on his demise, and 
leave her free to marry some other man with whom she is enam- 
ored. So he gives her a terrible beating and orders her to kill 
the second twin without delay. A father entertains no fears for 
his soul if his wife bears him several children in natural succes- 
sion, one every year or every two years. In such a case the wound 
to his soul, caused by the birth of a child, has time to heal before 
the birth of the next child, so that a man with a strong and robust 
soul can safely surround himself with many offspring. 118 

Some of the Indian tribes of North America held twins in 
abhorrence and frequently killed them. 116 

The Tungus of Manchuria detest twins "a woman is not a 
bitch or a pig, and must have only one child/ 1 They allow nothing 
to be borrowed, bought, or taken from a woman who has had 
twins or from her husband, lest the same calamity fall on other 
people. 117 

Innumerable are the vagaries of the human mind! Some 
primitive peoples welcome the advent of twins, deeming them the 
bearers of good fortune and regarding them with the utmost 
respect and even reverence. 118 The Hottentots, we are told by an 
old writer, regarded boy twins as a "mighty blessing." But there 



66 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

was little or no rejoicing if the twins were girls. Quite commonly 
one of them, "the worst featured of the two/' was buried alive 
or otherwise destroyed. 119 The Bomvana believe that twins can 
drive away hail. A hut inhabited by them is safe from light- 
ning. 120 The Masai of Tanganyika Territory eagerly desire twins. 
These wear a necklace made of leather and cowrie shells to dis- 
tinguish them from other children. 121 

By the Baganda of Uganda twins were regarded as due to 
the direct intervention of a god, and hence they had to be most 
carefully treated. "Any mistake on the part of the parents, or any 
sickness which befell the twins, was looked upon as the result 
of the god's anger, which might extend to the whole clan." Both 
mother and father were made sacred, not polluted, by the twin- 
birth, and they remained so until an elaborate ceremony had 
been performed to remove the odor of sanctity attaching to their 
persons. 122 By the Banyoro the birth of twins is regarded as a 
propitious event and the happy parents are recipients of congratu- 
lations. 123 The Lango, a Nilotic tribe of Uganda, think that twins 
bring good luck, not only for the family and clan, but also for 
the whole village. The same auspicious character attaches to 
triplets. 124 The Shilluk call twins "children of the great spirit" 
and protect them by many ceremonies against all possible evils. 125 

The Manja of French Equatorial Africa celebrate the advent 
of twins with dances and libations. Marvelous powers are at- 
tributed to twins ; serpents and scorpions are under their domina- 
tion. A person stung by a scorpion can at once be healed if the 
first finger of a twin is placed on the wound. Twins themselves 
never fear snake bite or scorpion sting. By means of the serpents 
twins can hurl curses, and through the same intermediaries they 
can kill parents who mistreat them. 126 In most parts of the Benin 
territory twins are of good omen. 127 

By the Yoruba no phenomenon is invested with greater im- 
portance or with deeper mystery than that of twin births. Twins 
are "almost credited" with extra-human powers, and the influence 
of their birth is exerted even upon single children that may be 
born after them. 128 The mother pays special honor to twins while 
living. Should one of them die she replaces it by a wooden image 
which must be carried about, washed, and dressed just as the 
baby was cared for. Sacrifices of food are offered to twins and 
the mother receives the congratulations of her neighbors. 129 

In Dahomey twins are treated more carefully than other chil- 
dren. They are always dressed alike, and if one of them receives 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 67 

a gift the other must have a similar gift. 130 The Kpelle of Li- 
beria regard twins as born sorcerers. Hence they enjoy an excep- 
tional position as long as they live. The people treat them with 
respect, not unmixed with fear, and make many gifts to them to 
gain their good will. 131 

For the Maricopa Indians the birth of twins was a fortunate 
event. Twins and deformed children, unlike ordinary children, 
were thought to be reborn. They came to this world merely as 
visitors; hence, if mistreated, they would return to their home in 
the spirit land. 132 Some of the southeastern Indian tribes, includ- 
ing the Natchez and the Cherokee, considered that the younger 
of twins was likely to make a good prophet. It was thought 
that triplets might know still more of hidden things and future 
events. 138 The Thompson Indians of British Columbia called 
twins "grizzly-bear children" or "hairy feet," because a mother 
about to be delivered of twins was generally made aware of the 
fact by the repeated appearance of the grizzly bear in her dreams. 
Twins were supposed to be under the protection of this animal 
and to be endowed by it with special powers, such as the ability to 
create good or bad weather. After the birth of twins the parents 
moved away from the village and lived in a lodge made of fir 
boughs and bark until the twins were about four years old. Dur- 
ing this period of seclusion the twins were constantly purified by 
means of fir twigs or boughs dipped in water and were not al- 
lowed to come in contact with the villagers. 134 

It is a common rule that all cohabitation must cease, not only 
just after a woman's confinement, but up to her final purification. 
Furthermore, husband and wife frequently avoid each other until 
the child is weaned or until it can walk or until it can speak. 135 If 
sexual intercourse is resumed immediately after the woman has 
been purified the previous taboo of cohabitation finds a ready 
explanation in the fear of the woman's uncleanness. When, how- 
ever, the taboo continues in force for a long time, even for several 
years after the woman's purification, or when it applies to inter- 
course by the husband with other women during this period, an 
explanation must be sought in the assumed dangerousness of any 
sexual relations. The danger anticipated is usually for the child, 
but sometimes the wife or the husband is supposed to pay the 
penalty for a breach of continence. 

The Koita of British New Guinea do not allow cohabitation 
until the child can toddle about; "if it is resumed before then 
the child will weaken, sicken and perhaps die." 186 The Mountain 



66 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

was little or no rejoicing if the twins were girls. Quite commonly 
one of them, "the worst featured of the two," was buried alive 
or otherwise destroyed. 119 The Bomvana believe that twins can 
drive away hail. A hut inhabited by them is safe from light- 
ning. 120 The Masai of Tanganyika Territory eagerly desire twins. 
These wear a necklace made of leather and cowrie shells to dis- 
tinguish them from other children. 121 

By the Baganda of Uganda twins were regarded as due to 
the direct intervention of a god, and hence they had to be most 
carefully treated. "Any mistake on the part of the parents, or any 
sickness which befell the twins, was looked upon as the result 
of the god's anger, which might extend to the whole clan." Both 
mother and father were made sacred, not polluted, by the twin- 
birth, and they remained so until an elaborate ceremony had 
been performed to remove the odor of sanctity attaching to their 
persons. 122 By the Banyoro the birth of twins is regarded as a 
propitious event and the happy parents are recipients of congratu- 
lations. 128 The Lango, a Nilotic tribe of Uganda, think that twins 
bring good luck, not only for the family and clan, but also for 
the whole village. The same auspicious character attaches to 
triplets. 12 * The Shilluk call twins "children of the great spirit" 
and protect them by many ceremonies against all possible evils. 125 

The Manja of French Equatorial Africa celebrate the advent 
of twins with dances and libations. Marvelous powers are at- 
tributed to twins ; serpents and scorpions are under their domina- 
tion. A person stung by a scorpion can at once be healed if the 
first finger of a twin is placed on the wound. Twins themselves 
never fear snake bite or scorpion sting. By means of the serpents 
twins can hurl curses, and through the same intermediaries they 
can kill parents who mistreat them. 126 In most parts of the Benin 
territory twins are of good omen. 12T 

By the Yoruba no phenomenon is invested with greater im- 
portance or with deeper mystery than that of twin births. Twins 
are "almost credited" with extra-human powers, and the influence 
of their birth is exerted even upon single children that may be 
born after them. 128 The mother pays special honor to twins while 
living. Should one of them die she replaces it by a wooden image 
which must be carried about, washed, and dressed just as the 
baby was cared for. Sacrifices of food are offered to twins and 
the mother receives the congratulations of her neighbors. 129 

In Dahomey twins are treated more carefully than other chil- 
dren. They are always dressed alike, and if one of them receives 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 67 

a gift the other must have a similar gift. 180 The Kpelle of Li- 
beria regard twins as born sorcerers. Hence they enjoy an excep- 
tional position as long as they live. The people treat them with 
respect, not unmixed with fear, and make many gifts to them to 
gain their good will. 131 

For the Maricopa Indians the birth of twins was a fortunate 
event. Twins and deformed children, unlike ordinary children, 
were thought to be reborn. They came to this world merely as 
visitors; hence, if mistreated, they would return to their home in 
the spirit land. 132 Some of the southeastern Indian tribes, includ- 
ing the Natchez and the Cherokee, considered that the younger 
of twins was likely to make a good prophet. It was thought 
that triplets might know still more of hidden things and future 
events. 138 The Thompson Indians of British Columbia called 
twins "grizzly-bear children" or "hairy feet," because a mother 
about to be delivered of twins was generally made aware of the 
fact by the repeated appearance of the grizzly bear in her dreams. 
Twins were supposed to be under the protection of this animal 
and to be endowed by it with special powers, such as the ability to 
create good or bad weather. After the birth of twins the parents 
moved away from the village and lived in a lodge made of fir 
boughs and bark until the twins were about four years old. Dur- 
ing this period of seclusion the twins were constantly purified by 
means of fir twigs or boughs dipped in water and were not al- 
lowed to come in contact with the villagers. 134 

It is a common rule that all cohabitation must cease, not only 
just after a woman's confinement, but up to her final purification. 
Furthermore, husband and wife frequently avoid each other until 
the child is weaned or until it can walk or until it can speak. 185 If 
sexual intercourse is resumed immediately after the woman has 
been purified the previous taboo of cohabitation finds a ready 
explanation in the fear of the woman's uncleanness. When, how- 
ever, the taboo continues in force for a long time, even for several 
years after the woman's purification, or when it applies to inter- 
course by the husband with other women during this period, an 
explanation must be sought in the assumed dangerousness of any 
sexual relations. The danger anticipated is usually for the child, 
but sometimes the wife or the husband is supposed to pay the 
penalty for a breach of continence. 

The Koita of British New Guinea do not allow cohabitation 
until the child can toddle about; "if it is resumed before then 
the child will weaken, sicken and perhaps die." 186 The Mountain 



68 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Arapesh strictly forbid intercourse by the father, not only with 
the mother of his child but also, if he has two wives, with his sec- 
ond wife. The taboo is observed until the child can walk or talk. 187 

In the Trobriand Islands husband and wife do not have sexual 
intercourse until their child can walk, or, according to a stricter 
rule, until it is weaned when about two years old. The stricter 
rule is always observed by men with several wives. Should the 
mother, even of an illegitimate child, copulate too soon after giv- 
ing birth, the child would surely die. 138 In New Ireland mother 
and father are not supposed to have sexual relations with each 
other during the nursing period, which lasts for two or three 
years. Nor may they cohabit with anyone else at this time. If 
the mother did so, her milk would not be good. If the father did 
so and then took up his child and played with it, the child would 
"smell" his impurity, sicken, and perhaps die. 189 

The people of Buka in the Solomons interdict intercourse 
with a mother until the child is at least two years old. There is no 
prohibition of the husband's relations with other women, whether 
his wives or sweethearts, so that continence is not imposed upon 
a man. A woman who fails to observe the taboo is supposed to 
bring ill health to her child. Some women who cohabit in secret 
give their child a decoction of certain leaves to drink, this being 
supposed to counteract the bad effects of their act. But, in gen- 
eral, women strongly resent any attempt by their husbands to 
approach them during the tabooed period. A man who divorced 
his wife for refusing him access at a time she considered too 
soon after the birth of their child, aroused the unfavorable sen- 
timent of the village and never got another wife. 140 

The Thonga prohibit sexual intercourse between husband and 
wife for some time after childbirth, "owing to possible contam- 
ination by the lochia." Violation of this taboo would be a very 
great sin, indeed, if the mother again conceived. When the child 
begins to crawl, a rite called "tying the cotton string" is per- 
formed to celebrate the child's formal reception into the family. 
After this the parents may resume cohabitation, but they avoid 
conception until the child is weaned. 141 

A Basuto husband is separated from his wife for only four 
days after her confinement. A special ceremony, called "the help- 
ing," is performed to introduce them to each other. Unless this 
is done, the husband will swell up; if he had intercourse with his 
wife before the performance of the ceremony he will die. Some 
say that he would die if he had intercourse with a woman not his 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 69 

wife. 142 Wabena women are not supposed to have sexual rela- 
tions while nursing a child; if they did, the child would die. This 
taboo is ceremonially broken when the baby is a few months old, 
in order to make it strong. After obtaining the sanction of their 
elders and receiving from them a medicine for the child similar 
to that given to a girl at her first menstruation, husband and wife 
spend a night or two together. They must then refrain again 
from intercourse until the child is weaned. 143 Among the Bangala 
(Boloki) of the Upper Congo a woman never had sexual rela- 
tions with her husband for about three months before her con- 
finement and until the child was weaned. "It was believed that 
if this prohibition were not observed, the child would sicken and 
die." 144 The Bambala believe that intercourse with a nursing 
mother would be fatal to her. If she dies soon after childbirth 
her husband is accused of murder and is heavily fined, or, more 
often, is compelled to submit to the poison ordeal. 145 Among the 
Manja of French Equatorial Africa the husband does not cohabit 
with his wife from the fourth month of her pregnancy until the 
child is weaned, that is, for a period of more than a year and a 
half, sometimes for two years. Should he break the taboo, he 
risks being wounded when fighting. 146 The Baya think that were 
a man to have intercourse with his nursing wife her milk would 
turn sour and endanger the child's life. 147 Among the tribes of 
the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast a woman resumes 
sexual intercourse with her husband only when two years have 
elapsed after giving birth. It is believed that if a woman became 
pregnant again before her child could eat native food the child 
would die. 148 

This prohibition of sexual intercourse between husband and 
wife helps to account for the custom of polygyny. A man with 
only one wife must remain continent, perhaps for a long time, 
unless sexual relations outside of wedlock are permissible. That 
the prohibition benefits the mother is obvious, for it enables her 
to "space" her pregnancies. That it benefits the child is no less 
obvious, especially among primitive peoples who drink no animal 
milk and eat no farinaceous food. A second pregnancy for a 
nursing mother means that her first child must be weaned before 
it is old enough and strong enough to assimilate solid food, or, 
if she continues to nurse it, that her milk will be so impoverished 
as to be injurious to the child. Some primitive peoples expressly 
recognize the practical utility of the taboo. In the Fiji Islands 
husband and wife keep apart for three years, or even four years, 



70 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

after childbirth, so that no other baby may interfere with the 
time considered necessary for suckling strong and healthy off- 
spring. "The relatives of a woman take it as a public insult if 
any child should be born before the customary three or four 
years have elapsed, and they consider themselves in duty bound 
to avenge it in an equally public manner. I heard of a white man, 
who being asked how many brothers and sisters he had, frankly 
replied 'Ten!' 'But that could not be/ was the rejoinder of the 
natives, 'one mother could scarcely have so many children/ When 
told that these children were born at annual intervals and that 
such occurrences were common in Europe, they were very much 
shocked, and thought it explained sufficiently why so many white 
people were 'mere shrimps'." 149 

In the Tonga Islands, before the missionaries had introduced 
European ideas of family life, the native social system required 
the mother to abstain from sexual relations during the entire 
nursing period, in order to avoid a second gestation and conse- 
quently the premature weaning of her first child. 150 The Kgatla 
of the Bechuanaland Protectorate forbid sexual relations between 
husband and wife only for the first two or three weeks after she 
has given birth. It is their duty, however, to see that she does 
not become pregnant again until the child is weaned. 151 In Da- 
homey, where parents do not cohabit for at least six months after 
the birth of a child, and in many cases for a year thereafter, it 
is well understood that frequent pregnancies injure the health of 
a mother and cause her to produce sickly offspring. 152 Ibo parents 
are expected to refrain from sexual intercourse for a period of 
about three years, because it is taboo for a woman to bear another 
child until the one she is nursing is no longer dependent on her 
for sustenance. So the husband seeks another wife, a procedure 
which she favors. 158 

The woman's uncleanness usually continues for some time 
after the birth of the child. She may have to observe various re- 
strictions, particularly in regard to food, and undergo a purifica- 
tory ceremony before resuming her normal life. In the Euahlayi 
tribe of New South Wales the woman must remain in her special 
camp for about three months. Every night for the first month 
she must lie on a steam bed made of dampened eucalyptus leaves. 
During her seclusion she is not allowed to touch anything belong- 
ing to another, for what she touched would become unclean and 
unfit for use. Her food is brought to her by some old woman. 154 

Among the Sinaugolo of British New Guinea a woman gen- 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 71 

erally stays at home for about a week after childbirth, and during 
this time her husband does not enter the house where she is. For 
about a month she must not handle food or cook it, and when 
eating food prepared for her by her friends she uses a sharpened 
stick to transfer it to her mouth. 155 A Kiwai woman, after recov- 
ering from childbirth, makes a gift of food from her garden to 
the women who assisted at her confinement. No man partakes of 
this food, for if he did he would be stricken by paralysis. 156 Some 
of the tribes on the northwest coast of New Guinea require a 
woman to stay indoors for several months after bearing a child. 
When she does quit the house she must cover her head with a 
hood or a mat; if the sun shone on her, one of her male relatives 
would die. 157 

In Murua or Woodlark Island, to the east of the Trobriands, 
a woman giving birth for the first time is secluded in a temporary 
room constructed for the purpose at the end of her mother's 
house. She and her child stay there for a month or more, exposed 
to the smoke of a fire which is kept constantly burning in the 
room. The smoke prevents any evil spirit from harming them, 
at a time when they are most susceptible to injury from unseen 
powers. As a further safeguard, the mother frequently rubs her- 
self and her child with coconut oil. 158 The Buin people of Bou- 
gainville Island require a woman to stay in the birth house for 
a week after her confinement. She is visited only by those female 
relatives who are married. Mother and child then have a ritual 
washing in a creek and sit down to a feast in which the kinswomen 
participate. The mother may not go home nor may the husband 
see his child until these purifications have been accomplished. 
Once home the wife resumes her usual occupations, but she does 
not leave the house, go fishing in the river, or enter a garden or 
the forest until another ceremonial feast has been held. This 
takes place in from three to six months, though a big chief will 
wait for nearly a year. Should a mother break any of the taboos, 
evil spirits would attack her child. The ghosts of the ancestors, 
angry at the mother's disobedience, would be reluctant to de- 
fend it. 159 

A New Caledonian woman usually gives birth not in her own 
but in a neighboring village. She remains away for sixty days. 
Before she returns to her husband's abode she must submit to 
purification and make an offering to the tribal sorcerer. 160 In Fiji 
a woman after giving birth had to lie down for ten days, and 
all food, except taro broth and baked fish, was forbidden her. 161 



72 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

In Manahiki, or Humphrey's Island, the woman for ten days 
after her delivery was not allowed to handle food and conse- 
quently had to be fed by some other person. 162 A Tahitian woman 
after childbirth lived for two or three weeks in a temporary hut 
erected on sacred ground. During this period she might not touch 
food and had to be fed by another. Only the mother was allowed 
to touch the child at this time ; anyone else who did so was sub- 
jected to the same restrictions until the ceremony of purification 
had been performed. 163 In Hawaii the mother remained secluded 
for seven days ; during this time she might not eat ordinary food 
but partook of a broth made from the flesh of a dog. 164 Maori 
women, at least those of the more important families, were se- 
cluded for about a month after their confinement. They were 
tapu and because of that condition were believed to be especially 
dangerous to people engaged in cultivating the sweet potato, a 
standard article of diet. 165 

Among the Tenguian of Northern Luzon a fire is kept con- 
stantly burning for twenty-nine days in the room where a woman 
has been confined. The father must carefully prepare each stick 
of wood to be burned, for should it have rough places on it the 
child would have lumps on its head. That the fire is intended 
primarily as a protection against evil spirits and only incidentally 
to keep the mother warm appears from the belief that they are 
wont to attack a house where a birth or a death has occurred. 
The mother for these days follows a very strict regimen and 
bathes each day in water in which certain herbs and leaves, dis- 
tasteful to evil spirits, are boiled. 166 The purification of a Malay 
mother deserves to be called an ordeal by fire. For it a kind of 
rough couch is prepared upon a small platform. Under the latter 
a fireplace is constructed and a roaring fire lighted. The women 
must recline on this couch two or three times in the course of a 
day and remain on it for an hour or more. As if this were not 
enough, one of the heated hearthstones is frequently wrapped in 
a piece of flannel or old rags and applied to the patient's stomach 
to roast her still more effectively. This ceremony of "ascending the 
roasting-place" is carried out every day for the forty-four days of 
purification. 187 Among the Shans a fire is lighted near a mother 
who has given birth and is kept burning night and day, whether 
the weather be hot or cold, for nearly a month. Her husband does 
not eat food cooked by her during this time nor does she cook for 
herself. It is necessary that her mother or sister or some female 
friend should stay in the house and cook for both of them. 168 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 73 

Among the Adivi, an aboriginal people of southern India, 
when a woman feels the first birth pangs she leaves the village 
and goes to a little leaf or mat hut some distance away. There 
she brings forth her child unaided, unless a midwife can be 
called in time before the child is born. A midwife who arrived 
after the birth would not be allowed to go near the mother. For 
ninety days the mother lives alone. Food for her is placed on the 
ground near the hut, but no one approaches her, under pain of 
being turned out of the village for ninety days. The woman's 
husband generally builds a hut near that of his wife and stays 
in it much of the time to watch over her, but he too must not 
approach her lest he become ceremonially unclean and suffer ban- 
ishment. On the ninetieth day the headman of the village calls 
upon the woman to quit the hut. Her clothes are then washed, 
she puts on clean clothes, and undergoes a ceremonial purification 
in her own house. Despite this rigorous regime, it is said that 
the death of a mother or of her child never occurs during the 
period of seclusion. 169 

The bed on which a Malagasy mother lies after giving birth 
is hung above and about with large rush mats. Sometimes a fire 
is kindled under the bedstead itself, "so that the poor mother is 
nearly suffocated with the smoke." Formerly it was a common 
practice to place some prickly plant at the foot of the bed and 
along one side of it to drive away evil spirits. 170 

The Zulu required a mother to be carefully secluded in her 
hut for a month after childbirth, and during this period the people 
of the kraal "were doctored by special medicines, lest they should 
be influenced for evil by the birth of the child." A mother who 
neglected her seclusion, or "incubation" as it was called, would 
never have any more offspring. 171 A Bavenda mother remained 
secluded until the child's umbilical cord dropped off, about four 
days after her confinement. Her husband was informed of the 
birth of the child and of its sex, but he might not see or touch 
it until the mother's seclusion was over. An infringement of 
this taboo would inevitably result in his having a disease of the 
eyes. 172 A Herero woman who has given birth to a child lives in 
a special hut which her female companions have constructed for 
her. Both the hut and the woman at this time are "sacred." Men 
are not allowed to see the lying-in woman until the navel string 
has separated from the child, otherwise they would become weak- 
lings and when later they went to war they would be killed. 178 

Certain of the tribes absorbed by the Barotse compelled a 



74 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

woman, after having given birth, to sleep with two strange men 
before returning to her husband. 174 

Among the Akikuyu of Kenya childbirth imposes only a brief 
period of seclusion for the mother four days after the birth of 
a girl and five days after that of a boy. 175 The Nandi do not per- 
mit a woman, for one month after the birth of a child, to touch 
food with her hands. Her house must be cleansed with water 
and cow dung. Until her child is weaned she must proceed to a 
river every morning and wash her hands and arms. During this 
time she may not touch any part of her body; if she wishes to 
scratch herself a stick must be used for the purpose. 176 Among 
the Baganda, as soon as the child was born, "the midwife sent 
a boy, who had to be a younger brother of the child's father, to 
fetch a log of wood, which was placed upon the fire and kept 
burning for the first nine days after the birth. No one was al- 
lowed to take any fire or water from the house during the nine 
days. When they were completed, the log was cast away upon 
some waste land, and was supposed to remove any evil that 
might be in the house. No one was allowed to enter the house ; 
the mother had her meals with the midwife, and was said to be 
lying in alkali, and to be unapproachable. When the nine days 
(or in the case of some clans, seven days) were ended, the woman 
went out to wash, and her house was swept, and cleansed from all 
traces of the birth." 177 

The Latuka of the Upper Nile secluded a mother for fourteen 
days. During this time the father may neither enter his house 
nor see his child. The mother is visited only by the women who 
were present at the birth. They take charge of the household 
duties and care for the child. At the end of the seclusion period 
the mother and child are completely washed from head to foot, 
and the mother's hair is shaved off and burned. The purificatory 
fire which has been blazing all this time is extinguished and the 
house is swept and sprinkled with water. Mother and child are 
then led to the door, where the grandfather, or if he be dead, the 
father, gives the child its name. 178 Among the Twi of the Gold 
Coast the uncleanness of the mother lasts for seven days after 
childbirth, but she is not allowed to go out in public or to visit 
friends until three months have elapsed. 179 

It was formerly the custom among the Araucanians of south- 
ern Chile not to permit a woman to give birth to a child within 
the village; if she did so, infectious diseases would follow. "She 
was driven out, on beginning to feel the labour pains, and re- 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 75 

tired to the banks of the nearest stream or lake. As soon as the 
child was born the mother stepped into the water and performed 
the necessary ablutions, returning afterwards to a small hut con- 
structed for the purpose near the ruca, which constituted her 
home. Here she remained a week, attended by some compassion- 
ate friend. At the end of this time she bathed again and returned 
to her own home, where all her relations and friends were assem- 
bled to celebrate a feast in honour of the babe/' 180 The Muskogee 
Indians required a woman who had given birth to stay away from 
the community for three "moons," exclusive of that "moon" in 
which she had been delivered. Were this rule not observed, she 
would be held responsible for any sudden sickness or death among 
the people. 181 

A Huron or an Iroquois mother never gave birth in her own 
hut but always in a little house outside the village. She remained 
secluded for some time for forty days in the case of a first child. 
When she was ready to return to her abode, the fire there was 
extinguished and a new fire built. 182 Among the Fox Indians an 
expectant mother builds a little hut and goes there when her con- 
finement draws near. Should the birth house not be ready in time, 
she is left alone in the wigwam, but this would be a most unfor- 
tunate contretemps, for the child will die before its parents if it 
has no house of its own. Neighbor women attend the mother. 
The men keep out of her way, else they also would have to seclude 
themselves. The mother remains in the birth house thirty days 
for a boy and forty days for a girl. At the end of this period 
she bathes herself and the baby, burns the birth house and its con- 
tents, sprinkles herself and the baby with the ashes and goes back 
to her household. 188 

The Dakota Indian mother, if not on the first day of the 
child's birth, at any rate very soon after, goes to a stream or lake 
to wash away her uncleanness. If the season is winter, she cuts 
a hole in the ice to perform this purificatory rite. 184 Of the Cali- 
fornia Indians it has been said, in general, that the mother after 
childbirth "was regarded as more or less defiled, though this feel- 
ing usually did not approach in intensity those connected with 
either death or the woman's periodical functions." 185 

The Netsilik Eskimo of Polar America require a woman who 
has given birth and has returned home to observe various restric- 
tions. She must have her own cooking utensils. She must never 
eat in the house of a stranger and never during the day, only 
early in the morning and late at night. Raw meat is forbidden 



76 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

her, as well as what comes from the inside of an animal such as 
guts and eggs. She always drinks ice-cold water, for lukewarm 
water would make her child weakly. 188 Among the Koryak, a 
tribe of northeastern Siberia, the mother, for a full year follow- 
ing the birth of her child, must not eat ringed seal, white whale, 
fresh fish, or raw thong seal. These prohibitions are intended to 
prevent unclean women from coming into contact with the ani- 
mals which form the chief source of subsistence for the people. 187 

The uncleanness of childbirth usually affects the child as well 
as the mother and requires purification for the one as well as for 
the other. A Maori child came into the world an object exceed- 
ingly tapu and might be touched only by those equally tapu until 
after the following ceremony had been performed. The father 
first proceeded to roast some fern root over the blaze of a sacred 
fire. He then took the child in his arms and after touching head, 
back, and other parts of its body with the fern root, he ate the 
food. This was known as "eating the child all over." The next 
morning, at daybreak, the child's eldest relative in the direct fe- 
male line repeated the rite in precisely the same manner. The child 
was then quite noa, or free from restriction, and might be safely 
handed about among the relatives to be fondled in their arms. It 
also received a name at this time. 188 The Maori also had a bap- 
tismal ceremony. When the child was eight days old, the parents 
and friends assembled by the side of a stream. A priest stuck a 
karamu branch upright in the water. The child's navel string 
was cut off with a piece of shell and fastened to the branch. The 
priest then sprinkled the child with the water flowing around the 
branch ; sometimes he immersed the child. Naming the child com- 
pleted the ceremony. 189 

The Amaxosa wash a newly-born child for ten days. After 
the first washing, that is, on the day of its birth, comes the cere- 
mony of "waving through the smoke." A fire is made of certain 
twigs whose smoke has an acrid smell. The mother then takes up 
her child and, holding the little arms in one hand and the little 
legs in another, swings it gently to and fro through the smoke, 
meanwhile turning it about so that all parts of its body are ex- 
posed to the smoke. The fire is then extinguished. 190 Among the 
Herero of southwestern Africa "a new-born child is washed the 
only time he is ever washed in his life then dried and greased, 
and the ceremony is over." 191 

The Swahili, who occupy the island of Zanzibar and the op- 
posite mainland, require a woman to remain in seclusion and on a 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 77 

diet for forty days after giving birth. At the end of this time she 
and her husband must cohabit. Father, mother, and child then 
bathe one after the other in the same water. This ceremony, called 
"diet breaking," is considered necessary for the child's health. 192 
Among the Banyoro, on the third or fourth day after the birth of 
a child, the priest presents it to the ancestral spirits and begs their 
favors for it. He accompanies each petition by spitting on the 
child's body and pinching it. 198 The Yoruba purify both mother 
and child with the water which is always in the earthen vessels 
placed before the images of the gods. It is brought to the house 
and thrown up on the thatched roof and, as it drops down from 
the eaves, the mother and child pass three times through the fall- 
ing drops. A priest then bathes the child's head with water of 
purification, repeats three times the name by which the child is 
to be known, and holds it so that its feet touch the ground. The 
fire is now extinguished in the house, the embers carried away, 
live coals brought in, and a fresh fire lighted. When these cere- 
monies have been performed and the house has been carefully 
swept out, purification is complete. 194 

As soon as a Pima child was old enough to creep about it was 
taken by the parents to a medicine man to receive the rite of puri- 
fication. He put a sacred pebble and an owl feather into a seashell 
containing water, which was then drunk by the parents and the 
child. They also ate some white ashes or a little mud. Meanwhile, 
the medicine man waved an eagle feather to and fro. "This sim- 
ple ceremony was sufficient to thwart the malice of all evil demons ; 
lightning would not strike the child, and the possibility of acci- 
dents of all kinds was thus precluded." 195 

Among the Hopi Indians mother and child are purified to- 
gether. The mother must not see the sun or put on her moccasins 
until the fifth day after childbirth. She then bathes her head and 
her baby's also in a suds made of amole root ; this done, she is at 
liberty to go out of doors and to resume her household duties. 
The bathing must be repeated on the tenth and fifteenth days, 
and on the twentieth day she takes a vapor bath. Until these rites 
have been performed she is not allowed to eat meat or salt, and 
she may drink only warm water and juniper tea. The house is 
also thoroughly cleansed at this time. The sweepings of the floor 
are placed in a bowl, which is then thrown, with its contents, 
over the rim of the mesa. 198 The Cherokee believed that if the 
ceremony of washing a child when three days old was omitted 
the child would die. 197 Among the Takelma Indians of Oregon 



78 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

a child, a month after its birth, was taken to the river and waved 
five times over the water "as a sort of 'baptismal' rite." 198 

The family and social responsibilities of the husband would 
ordinarily make it very inconvenient, if not impossible, for him 
to observe all the taboos which burden the wife after her con- 
finement. In common with other men, the husband is often not 
allowed to be present on the occasion of childbirth ; sometimes he 
may not visit his wife during the period of her seclusion which 
follows ; and sometimes, as we have seen, he is forbidden to have 
intercourse with her for a long time after her return home. Such 
restrictions are accounted for by the impurity of the wife, not 
by that of the husband. Nevertheless, there are peoples who be- 
lieve that the husband shares the wife's impurity and who, quite 
logically, impose upon him pains and penalties more or less simi- 
lar to hers. He is secluded, limited in his diet, not permitted to 
follow his usual vocations, and obliged to undergo various cere- 
monies of a purificatory character. These practices are clearly a 
recognition of the intimate ties uniting the parents, so that what 
happens to the one affects the condition of the other. Just as the 
husband, during his wife's pregnancy, may be obliged to observe 
various restrictions for his own good or for that of his fellows, 
so while she is lying-in he must share the usual restraints imposed 
upon women in the puerperal period. The custom may also acquire 
a secondary meaning as a public recognition of the father's par- 
entage and his assumption of the responsibilities that go with 
parenthood. 

Among the Motu near Port Moresby, British New Guinea, 
the husband shuts himself up for some days after the birth of his 
first child and eats nothing. He is helaga, or taboo. 199 

In Buka, an islet off the northern coast of Bougainville Island, 
the husband is also taboo. As soon as his wife's labor pains begin, 
he stops working and remains indoors, not in the hut where the 
birth is taking place but in that of another of his wives or of a 
neighbor. For the first three days he does nothing but sit before 
the fire and doze. On the fourth day he may visit his wife and 
child and may walk about the village but not beyond it. On the 
fifth day he washes with his wife in the sea. He then resumes his 
usual occupations. The Buka people say that since the father 
had "made the child come up" he was responsible, as well as the 
mother, for its welfare at birth and for the first few days of its 
life ; hence he must take the necessary precautions. Our informant 
tells of a young man of "advanced" views who refused to keep 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 79 

the customary rules. When his child died shortly after its birth, 
the natives were not surprised: he had been punished for his 
temerity. 200 

In some parts of Dutch Borneo the father of a newly-born 
child does not leave the village for four days. His wife must 
remain in it for an entire month. 201 When a birth is about to 
take place in an Ainu family the father must stay at home close 
to the fire or else leave his house and repair to that of some 
friends. He must be very quiet, "as though forsooth he was ill," 
for six days. During this time he neither drinks wine nor wor- 
ships the gods. On the morning of the seventh day he returns 
to his own dwelling, but must abide there quietly for another 
period of six days. 202 

The Paduang Karen do not allow a father, for the first six 
days after the birth of his child, to associate with any person out- 
side his own family or even to address a fellow-villager. This 
seclusion is said to be intended to prevent the transmission of the 
danger and weakness of childbearing to the other members of the 
community. 208 Among the Tangkhul of Manipur "the husband 
may not go out of the village or do any work after the birth of a 
child for six days if the child be a boy, or for five days when the 
child is a girl." 204 In Car Nicobar the husband remains idle and 
has his food cooked for him for about a month after the birth 
of his child. "In some cases husbands consider it advisable to 
observe greater precautions by commencing to do little or no work 
a few months before their wife's expected confinement, more 
especially abstaining from any such work as felling trees and 
digging holes for hut posts." The belief is that if the father 
failed to observe the rule prescribing idleness the child would be 
liable to fits. 205 

Some birth customs found in India reveal similar ideas of 
the father's uncleanness. Among the Erekula or Yerukula of 
southern India "directly the woman feels the birth pangs she 
informs her husband, who immediately takes some of her clothes, 
puts on his forehead the mask which the women usually place on 
theirs, retires into a dark room, where there is only a very dim 
lamp, and lies down on the bed, covering himself up with a long 
cloth. When the child is born, it is washed and placed on the cot be- 
side the father. Asafetida, jaggery [unrefined sugar], and other 
articles are then given, not to the mother, but to the father. Dur- 
ing the days of ceremonial uncleanness the man is treated as the 
other Hindus treat their women on such occasions. He is not 



80 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

allowed to leave his bed, but has everything needful brought to 
him." 206 

Among the Kuravar of Malabar, "as soon as the pains of 
delivery come upon a pregnant woman, she is taken to an outlying 
shed, and left alone to live or die as the event may turn out. No 
help is given to her for twenty-eight days. Even medicines are 
thrown to her from a distance ; and the only assistance rendered 
is to place a jar of warm water close by her just before the child 
is born. Pollution from birth is held to be worse than that from 
death. At the end of the twenty-eight days the hut in which she 
was confined is burnt down. The father, too, is polluted for four- 
teen days, and at the end of that time he is purified, not like other 
castes by the barber, but by holy water obtained from Brahmans 
at temples elsewhere." 207 Among the Korama of Mysore, the 
husband, as soon as his wife is confined, "goes to bed for three 
days and takes medicine consisting of chicken and mutton broth 
spiced with ginger, pepper, onions, garlic, etc. He drinks arrack 
and eats as good food as he can afford, while his wife is given 
boiled rice with a very small quantity of salt, for fear that a larger 
quantity may induce thirst. There is generally a Korama midwife 
to help the wife, and the husband does nothing but eat, drink, and 
sleep. The clothes of the husband, the wife, and the midwife are 
given to a washerwoman to be washed on the fourth day, and the 
persons themselves have a wash. After this purification the family 
gives a dinner to the caste-people, which finishes the ceremonial 
connected with childbirth." 208 After the confinement of a Paraiyan 
woman in Travancore "the husband is starved for seven days, 
eating no cooked rice or other food, only roots and fruits ; and 
drinking only arrack or toddy." 209 

The Maler or Sauria Paharia, an aboriginal tribe of the Raj- 
mahal Hills in Bengal, do not allow a father to do any work for 
five days after the birth of his child. He stays quietly in the house 
during this time. Should he touch anyone's bed or go into any- 
one's field, he must provide a sacrificial fowl. Its blood is sprinkled 
over the bed or over the field. Were this not done his uncleanness 
would bring sickness to the owner of the bed or destroy the crops 
in the field. When the child is named, soon after its birth, the 
house is cleaned and the clothes of the parents are washed. But 
the parents may not go visiting ( for a month in case of a boy or 
for two months in case of a girl) , nor are they permitted to touch 
the possessions of other people. 210 The father also plays a promi- 
nent role in the birth customs of the Hindus of central and north- 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 81 

ern India. He joins in the taboos which affect his wife and, like 
her, receives a ceremonial purification. 211 

The Bechuana of South Africa do not allow a father to enter 
a house for two months after the birth of his child. Nor may he 
join in hunting excursions during this time. 212 Among the Bangala 
a father observes certain food restrictions before the birth of his 
child. He does not hunt or fish during his wife's pregnancy and 
confinement, unless she obtains from a medicine man certain 
charms which allow him to engage in these occupations and also 
insure for her an easy delivery and a healthy child. While a man 
is observing the taboos, he is said to be in a state of liboi, a noun 
derived from a verb meaning "to be confined." 218 

Among the Yahgan or Yamana of Tierra del Fuego a man 
who has just become a father spends the whole day beside the fire 
in his hut, eats sparingly, refraining from certain foods, and 
gives up his usual occupations. These restrictions continue for 
several days. They are always more strictly observed for his first 
child than for a later child. 214 

Among some Guiana Indians (Caribs, Arawak, Warrau) "it 
is practically the husband who is isolated and does the 'lying-in.' 
Indeed, the woman is isolated only during actual delivery, which 
takes place either out in the bush, in a separate shelter, or in a 
compartment specially partitioned off from the rest of the house. 
With the bath that she takes within a comparatively few hours 
after the interesting event has occurred, her isolation, and with it 
any dangerous influence of her recent condition, ceases." Among 
the Makusi and Wapisiana, both parents engage in a "lying-in" 
for a shorter or longer period after the birth of their child. All 
these tribes consider the father to be as unclean as the mother, 
and his uncleanness is occasionally supposed to persist for a long 
time. A Mainland Carib, for instance, must devote himself to the 
service of an old Indian for several months; during this period 
he has to be submissive and look upon himself as a real slave. If 
a visitor enters his house while he is "lying-in," that visitor's dogs 
will die. The Arawak and Warrau say that if a man during the 
period when he ought to be "lying-in" has sexual relations with 
any women other than his wife, his newborn child will not live. 218 

The taboos kept by a mother during her pregnancy and her 
puerperal period, together with those obligatory on a father at 
the same times, are a proclamation of parenthood. Father and 
mother, having brought a child into the world, thus indicate their 
readiness to care for it, even though doing so requires them to 



82 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

observe many irksome and often painful restrictions. The in- 
clusion of the child in the birth ceremonial binds it to the parents 
by ties of custom superimposed upon those of natural affection 
and also gives to it a recognized status in the community. Here, 
as elsewhere in a primitive group, ritual plays a significant part 
in promoting social cohesion. 

The conviction that women in their catamenial periods are un- 
clean and consequently dangerous to themselves and to others is 
well-nigh universal among primitive peoples. All the mystic 
perils which for the savage invest pregnancy and parturition are 
likewise present at menstruation, and especially at the first com- 
ing of the menses. All the restrictions affecting a pregnant or 
parturient woman consequently appear, often in intensified form, 
at this time. 216 

A rule of wide observance requires men to abstain from in- 
tercourse with their menstruating wives, and the rule may take 
the form of a taboo against such intercourse. In the Luritja 
group of Central Australian tribes it is believed that a man who 
cohabits with a woman in her courses will get thin and finally 
die. 217 Among the Rengma Naga "no one would think of at- 
tempting to have connection with his wife during her monthly 
period. Were he to do so he would never again enjoy good for- 
tune." 218 Of the Tswana, a tribe in the Bechuanaland Protector- 
ate, it is said that few men will ever dare to sleep with a men- 
struating woman, lest they become afflicted with a virulent form 
of sickness. So strong is this belief that many a girl has been able, 
temporarily at least, to escape the attentions of an ardent but un- 
welcome lover by pleading her monthly illness as an excuse. 219 

The Anyanja of Nyasaland believe that a man who has inter- 
course with a menstruating woman will die unless he takes a medi- 
cine in time to counteract the effects of his indulgence. 220 The 
Reindeer Chukchi require husband and wife to sleep apart during 
the latter' s menstruation; otherwise the woman will fall sick 
and soon become sterile. "Foolish people," we are told, sometimes 
do not observe this restriction. 221 

The attitude of men toward menstruating women is commonly 
one of deep-seated fear and abhorrence. Among the South Aus- 
tralian tribes boys and uninitiated men were required to sleep at 
some distance from the huts of adults and to leave their quarters 
as soon as daylight dawned. This was a precaution to safeguard 
them from seeing some of the women, who might have been 
menstruating. 222 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 83 

In the Encounter Bay tribe, if a boy or a young man came 
near a menstruating woman, she uttered a warning cry, and he 
made a circuit to avoid her. Boys were told from infancy that 
if they saw a menstruous woman they would become gray-headed 
before their time and their strength would fail prematurely. 228 In 
the Wakelbura tribe of Queensland there is a regulation which 
forbids women from coming into the encampment by the same 
path as the men. 'The reason for this is the dread with which 
they regard the menstrual period of women. During such a time, 
a woman is kept entirely away from the camp, half a mile at least. 
A woman in such a condition has boughs of some tree of her 
totem tied around her loins, and is continually watched and 
guarded, for it is thought that should any male be so unfortunate 
as to see a woman in such a condition, he would die. If such a 
woman were to let herself be seen by a man, she would probably 
be put to death/ 1224 

Men of the Kabi (Kaiabara) and Wakka tribes of Queens- 
land evince a great aversion to passing under a rail or a leaning 
tree. They say that the blood of a menstruating woman may be 
on the wood and that some of it may fall upon a person passing 
underneath. 225 The Arunta do not allow a menstruating woman 
to gather irriakura bulbs, a staple article of food; if she did so, 
the supply of bulbs would fail. 226 The Kakadu of Arnhem Land, 
Northern Territory, think that if menstrual blood gets into the 
tracks of men their feet will be sore; if dogs eat it, the dogs will 
die. 227 The Murngin, in the same part of Australia, forbid a man 
from going out with a menstruating woman in a canoe ; should 
the taboo be broken a great mythical snake would swallow up 
everybody. 228 In the western group of the Torres Straits Islands 
the seclusion of pubescent girls and the taboos observed by them 
at this time are explained by "an intense fear of the deleterious 
and infective powers of the menstrual fluid," these powers being 
considered to be greatest at puberty. 229 

In Buka a menstruating woman must not prepare food for 
any man, even for her husband ; in consequence, she has to arrange 
for someone to cook his meals. She must not work in the taro 
garden, for if she did the pigs would eat the plants and the crop 
would be poor. She must not enter a canoe, or a storm would 
arise and the canoe would capsize. Nor must she go into the sea, 
either to wash or to fish, under penalty of spoiling the fishing. 
Buka women agree in declaring menstruation a nuisance. Most 
of them are said to shorten its duration or to cause it to be omitted 



84 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

for a month or more by taking certain medicines made from 
plants. 280 In Malekula, one of the New Hebrides, a menstruous 
woman may not enter a garden in which young plants are grow- 
ing. Her husband is subject to the same prohibition while she is 
in this condition. 281 

The Marquesans considered menstrual blood to be the most 
defiling of all things. A person who touched it, even by accident, 
acquired a malady which contracted his joints, particularly those 
of feet, hands, and fingers. 282 There are Marquesan mothers who 
even today refuse to sit on a chair, for fear that a child might 
subsequently walk or crawl under it. 288 

The natives of Mangareva believed that one who entered the 
little house where a menstruating woman was secluded would 
become blind. Contact with her clothing would have the same 
disastrous effect. 284 If a Maori man touched a menstruous woman 
he would be tapu\ if he had intercourse with her or ate food 
cooked by her he would be tapu "an inch thick." Of all the spirits 
which entered the body of a taboo-breaker and preyed upon his 
vital parts the most deadly were the kahukahu, the spirits of hu- 
man germs supposed to be contained in the menstrual fluid. 235 

The Maori believed that if a woman in her courses went to a 
sea beach where cockles were found all these shellfish would desert 
the place and "migrate to pastures new." If she tried to cook the 
kernels of certain berries in a boiling spring, the effort would be 
useless; the kernels would remain quite hard. If she went to a 
fire made for the purpose of attracting muttonbirds, none of the 
birds would venture near it but could be heard crying and screech- 
ing. Then the fowlers knew that a menstruous woman was among 
them. In this condition she was debarred from taking part in the 
cultivation of gourd plants, because, if she did so, the plants would 
surely die. 286 

In Nauru or Nawodo, one of the Gilbert Islands, menstruat- 
ing women wear mats around their bodies to indicate their con- 
dition. They are not allowed to eat fish which men have caught 
at sea in canoes, lest they spoil the fishing. However, the women 
may eat fish which they have themselves caught on the reef. 287 In 
the Marshall Islands menstruous women may not eat fish caught 
with net and weir on the outer reef, nor may they walk on the 
beach where fish appear in shoals. 288 

The Menangkabau of central Sumatra think that if a men- 
struating woman went near a rice field the rice (paddy) would be 
spoiled. 289 The Toradja of central Celebes have no ceremonies 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 85 

for a girl on the arrival of puberty, but she must not go near a 
tobacco field wearing a petticoat stained with menstrual blood. To 
do so would blight the tobacco. Such a garment has its usefulness, 
however; it will keep wild pigs out of a rice field. 240 

The Baca of South Africa believe that if a man should touch 
a menstruating woman his bones would become soft and he 
would be unable henceforth to take part in warfare or in any 
manly exercise. 241 The Ba-ila consider a woman in her courses 
to be dangerous. She must not eat in company with a man, else 
he would lose his virility. She must not sleep in her husband's 
bed. She must not handle other people's pots, or eat out of their 
basins, or drink out of their cups, or smoke their pipes. She must 
not cook food for anybody or draw water for anybody. She must 
not enter a village other than her own. She must not wear fine 
clothes. For five days she is taboo (tonda) ; then she washes and 
rejoins her fellows. 242 Among the Wabena of Tanganyika Ter- 
ritory it is a common practice, prior to sowing seed, to deposit 
some of it in water that has been tinted red with the bark of a 
special tree. The crops will be thus protected from blight, if a 
menstruous woman happens to walk across the field. To the same 
end some people put red earth around their tobacco patches. 248 
Suk warriors do not eat anything that has been touched by a 
menstruous woman, lest they lose their virility " 'in the rain 
they will shiver and in the heat they will faint'." 244 

By the Akamba a girl's first menstruation is considered to be 
a very critical period of her life. Should this condition appear 
when she is away from the village, she returns home at once, 
being careful to walk through the grass and not on a path. If 
.she followed a path and a stranger accidentally trod on a spot of 
blood and then indulged in sexual intercourse before her men- 
strual blood ceased to flow, she would never bear a child. 245 
The Akikuyu regard anyone who touches menstrual blood as un- 
clean; if a man cohabits with a menstruating woman both are 
unclean. 246 

It was formerly the custom among the Bakongo for menstruat- 
ing women to live apart in a special house. The custom has now 
been given up, but they still confine themselves to the more obscure 
part of their own homes and for exit and entrance use the back 
door. "During these times a woman is not permitted to cook her 
husband's food, nor food for any male member of her family; 
neither is she allowed to touch anything belonging to a man, nor 
return a man's salutation. If she has to pass near where some 



86 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

men are sitting who are likely to give her the equivalent of 'Good 
morning/ or 'Good evening/ she deliberately puts her pipe in her 
mouth, and gripping it firmly with her teeth she makes it stick 
out straight in front of her, as a sign that she may not answer, for 
she is regarded as unclean." 247 

The Ga people of the Gold Coast believe that their river gods 
object to menstruating women being ferried over rivers and upset 
a boat carrying such polluted passengers. 248 The Twi of the Gold 
Coast are persuaded that their gods have a "great repugnance" 
to menstruating women. It is the general opinion that such 
women are unclean. Women often take advantage of this belief 
by pretending that their menstrual period is at hand. They go off 
into the bush and there enjoy the society of their lovers without 
restraint. 249 In Southern Nigeria a menstruating woman is not 
allowed, as a rule, to enter her husband's house. Nor may she 
do any cooking for him. They say that if a man accepts food 
from her he will fall sick almost at once. 250 

By many American Indian tribes a menstruating woman is 
supposed to pollute everything with which she comes into contact. 
As a Toba declared, "When a woman has her menstruation the 
evil spirits are angry with her." 251 The Caribs of British Guiana 
think that a man who eats food prepared by a woman during her 
monthly periods will never be well and that he will have bad luck 
in hunting if a menstruating woman touches his weapons. 252 

The Winnebago believe that by contact with a woman in her 
courses even sacred objects lose their power. "If the Winnebago 
can be said to be afraid of any one thing it may be said it is this 
the menstrual flow of women for even the spirits die of its 
effects." 253 When a Cheyenne girl first menstruates everything 
that has a sacred character must be taken out of the lodge ; even 
the feathers that a man ties in his hair are removed. A menstruat- 
ing woman must not enter a lodge where there is a medicine 
bundle or bag, for should she do so her flow would be increased. 
The young men will not eat from a dish or drink from a pot used 
by a woman in this condition because, if polluted, they would 
surely be wounded in the next fight. Married men expect the 
same thing to happen if they lie beside their menstruating wives. 254 

The Karok, a California tribe, believed that if a menstruating 
woman touched or even approached any medicine being given to 
a sick person, the patient would die. 255 The Sekani Indians of 
northern British Columbia allowed a menstruating woman to eat 
only dried meat or dried fish. "If she ate fresh meat or fresh fish 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 87 

at this season she would spoil the hunters' luck. Since even to 
look at a hunter would impair his success in the chase, she cov- 
ered her eyes whenever she left her shelter. She might not walk 
in a hunter's trail, or touch his beaver net, though she could handle 
his knife, ax, or snowshoes. If she looked inside the den of a 
black bear that a hunter had slain he would kill no others ; and if 
she walked through running water no more fish would be caught 
in that stream." 256 The Tlingit were persuaded that the look of 
a menstruating woman would destroy the luck of a hunter, a 
fisher, or a gambler and would even turn objects into stone. 257 

Among all the Tinne, whose name is sometimes given to the 
northern Athapascan Indians, hardly any other being was the 
object of so much dread as a menstruating woman. "While in 
that awful state, she had to abstain from touching anything be- 
longing to man, or the spoils of any venison or other animal, lest 
she would thereby pollute the same, and condemn the hunters to 
failure, owing to the anger of the game thus slighted. Dried fish 
formed her diet, and cold water, absorbed through a drinking 
tube, was her only beverage. Moreover, as the very sight of her 
was dangerous to society, a special skin bonnet, with fringes 
falling over her face down to her breast, hid her from the public 
gaze, even some time after she had recovered her normal state/ 1258 

According to another account, which refers to the Tinne of 
the Yukon Valley, Alaska, these Indians believe that menstrual 
blood contains the very essence of femininity. Hence girls at 
puberty must avoid all contact with men, especially with young 
men, for this would make them unfit for all manly pursuits 
unfit for the hunt, for the salmon run, or for any kind of heavy 
work. A man so unfortunate as to have had contact with a girl 
at puberty may fish, as women do, and busy himself with the 
common chores about the house, but he is good for nothing more. 
"He may as well don the petticoat." Of course, no young man 
with a spark of ambition would willingly expose himself to such 
a blight nor would a young woman wish to bring it upon him. 
The puberty taboos, therefore, are rather rigorously observed. 259 

Among the Netsilik Eskimo menstruating women are ex- 
pected to make their condition known to all, so that hunters may 
be aware of their uncleanness and thus easily avoid them. 260 
Among the Maritime Chukchi a woman in her courses must care- 
fully avoid approaching her husband, lest her breath spoil his 
chances as a hunter of sea animals and even expose him to the 
risk of being drowned. 261 A Samoyed woman during her men- 



88 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

strual periods and also for the first eight weeks after giving birth 
is regarded as an "abominable creature." She must not touch any 
food, present anything to a man, or eat any game recently killed. 282 

It is usual for a girl, when first menstruating, to be secluded 
either in her own abode or in some special dwelling, to be sub- 
jected at this time to a more or less rigorous regimen, and, when 
her ordeal is over, to undergo a purificatory rite. Seclusion and 
purification may also be required of all women at their monthly 
periods. Among some of the tribes of southeastern Australia a 
pubescent girl is thoroughly smoked by the old woman (not her 
mother) who has charge of her in the bush. The efficacy of the 
fumigation is sometimes increased by rubbing the girl's body with 
opossum fat and ground charcoal. 283 The Arunta and Ilpirra of 
Central Australia require a girl at her first menstruation to sit 
over a hole for two days. She is not supposed to stir from the 
spot during this time. When the flow ceases, she fills in the hole 
and returns to the camp. 264 

The practice of secluding girls at puberty, as found among 
some of the natives of New Ireland, one of the Melanesian Is- 
lands, has been described by an eyewitness. "One day we heard 
of a girl in a buck, so we went to see her. A buck is the name of a 
little house, not larger than an ordinary hen-coop, in which a little 
girl is shut up, sometimes for weeks only, and at the other times 

for months Briefly stated, the custom is this. Girls on 

attaining puberty or betrothal, are enclosed in one of these little 
coops for a considerable time. They must remain there night and 
day. We saw two of these girls in two coops ; the girls were not 
more than ten years old, still they were lying in a doubled-up posi- 
tion, as their little houses would not admit of them lying in any 
other way. These two coops were inside a large house ; but the 
chief, in consideration of a present of a couple of tomahawks, 
ordered the ends to be torn out of the house to admit the light, 
so that we might photograph the buck. The occupant was allowed 
to put her face through an opening to be photographed, in con- 
sideration of another present." 265 

The Andaman Islanders require the seclusion of a girl at the 
first symptoms of puberty. She sits in a special hut, with her 
legs doubled up beneath her and her arms folded. "A piece of 
wood or bamboo is placed at her head for her to lean against, as 
she may not lie down. If she is cramped she may stretch one of 
her legs or one of her arms, but not both legs or both arms at the 
same time. To feed herself she may release one of her hands, 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 89 

but she must not take up the food with her fingers ; a skewer of 
cainyo wood is given her with which to feed herself. She may not 
speak nor sleep for twenty-four hours. Her wants are attended 
to by her parents and their friends, who sit near her to keep her 
from falling asleep. The girl sits thus for three days. Early 
every morning she leaves the hut to bathe for an hour in the sea. 
At the end of the three days she resumes her life in the village." 26 * 

Among the wilder Vedda of Ceylon no special measures are 
taken when a woman menstruates, for she is allowed to eat the 
ordinary food and to sleep in the cave as usual. The village Vedda, 
however, and most of those who have mixed at all with the Sing- 
halese, strictly isolate menstruous women in a little shelter erected 
for them a few paces from the family hut. "At Bendiyagalge, 
where the Henebedda and Kolombedda people were staying at the 
time of our visit, menstruous women stayed apart at one corner 
of the cave; they were fed from the pot in which the food for 
the community was cooked, but we do not think they would touch 
it or assist in any way in the cooking. At Omuni a menstruous 
woman is isolated under a rough shelter where she is waited upon 
by a younger unmarried sister or cousin who, it is stated, should 
not herself have attained puberty. During her seclusion she may 
not eat any food cooked at the ordinary fire, but a special platter 
is kept for her use. The girls who look after her suffer no restric- 
tions. This happens every time a girl or woman menstruates." 267 

An experienced missionary tells us that among the Zulu and 
kindred tribes, "when the first signs of womanhood show them- 
selves, a girl, should she be walking or working in the fields, runs 
to the river and hides herself for the day among the reeds that 
she may not be seen by men. Her head she covers with her blanket 
that the sun may not shine on it and shrivel her up into a with- 
ered skeleton, an assured result of any disregard of custom. At 
night she returns home and is closely secluded for a period of 
seven days. She then resumes her work .... Precautions must be 
taken against accidents, as these may happen at any moment. 
Scores of times did I put the question to South Africans : 'Why 
do your women never enter the village by the paths the men fol- 
low?' before I could get a satisfactory answer .... Gradually 
and indirectly I came to know that the restriction was designed to 
avoid accidents such as might happen with the advent of woman- 
hood unexpectedly." 288 

Nandi girls, on arrival at puberty, are subjected to the rite of 
"circumcision." Three days before this is to take place their god- 



90 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

mothers give them a strong purge and shave their heads. After 
the operation the girls are regarded as ceremonially unclean. 
They wear long garments reaching from the neck to the feet, and 
their heads are enveloped in a kind of mask which has only two 
holes in front for the eyes. They also remain in seclusion in their 
mothers' huts for a month or more until their purification is com- 
pleted by walking completely submerged four times through a 
pool in a river. The girls may now be married, but if no hus- 
bands come for them their seclusion continues for several weeks 
longer. 269 

When a Baganda girl first menstruated, she was secluded and 
not allowed to handle any food or to enter the house of her 
brother or uncle. Her female relatives attended to all her wants. 
"She was described as being 'at peace* (atude wamirembe), or 
being 'outside* ; when she recovered, the relative with whom she 
was staying had to jump over his wife ; or if she was near to them, 
the girl had to go and tell her parents that she had just recovered, 

whereupon her father had to jump over her mother The 

first menstruation was often called a marriage, and the girl was 
spoken of as a bride. When a girl cultivated her first plot of 
garden alone, and brought the first-fruits from it, her relative 
with whom she lived had to jump over his wife, or her father 
had to jump over her mother, before they partook of the food. 
This caused the garden, and all her future work in the garden, 
to be fruitful. It was for a similar purpose that her father, or the 
relative with whom she lived, jumped over his wife at her first 
menstruation; for if this practice were omitted, the girl would 
not have children (so it was thought), or they would die in 
infancy. A girl or woman who did not menstruate was looked 
upon askance, and if a man married such a woman, then every 
time that he went to war he wounded her with a spear sufficiently 
to draw blood ; otherwise he would be sure to fall in battle. Such 
women were also said to have a malign influence on gardens, and 
to cause them to become barren if they worked in them." 270 

The Uaupes of Brazil confine a pubescent girl in the house 
for a month and during this time provide her with only a little 
bread and water. Then she is brought out, perfectly naked, and 
her relatives and friends of her parents belabor her across the 
back and breast with pieces of an elastic climber until she falls 
senseless or dead. If she recovers, the flagellation is repeated four 
times, at intervals of six hours, "and it is considered an offense 
to the parents not to strike hard." Finally, the sticks are dipped 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 91 

into pots of meat and fat and are given to the girl to lick. She 
is now considered to be a marriageable woman. 271 

The taboos affecting menstruous women are nowhere more 
numerous or more rigidly observed than among the North Ameri- 
can Indians. The Chickasaw, we are told by an old authority, 
"oblige their women in their lunar retreats, to build small huts, 
at as considerable a distance from their dwelling-houses, as they 
imagine may be out of the enemies' reach; where, during the 
space of that period, they are obliged to stay at the risque of their 
lives. Should they be known to violate that ancient law, they 
must answer for every misfortune that befalls any of the people, 
as a certain effect of the divine fire; though the lurking enemy 
sometimes kills them in their religious retirement .... They 
reckon it conveys a most horrid and dangerous pollution to those 
who touch or go near them, or walk anywhere within the circle 
of their retreats; and are in fear of thereby spoiling the supposed 
purity and power of their holy ark, which they always carry to 

war The non-observance of this separation, a breach 

of the marriage-law, and murder, they esteem the most capital 
crimes. When the time of the women's separation is ended, they 
always purify themselves in deep running water, return home, 
dress, and anoint themselves." 272 

"The Indian women," says Captain Carver, referring more 
particularly to the Naudowessies (Sioux or Dakota), "are re- 
markably decent during their menstrual illness. In every camp 
or town there is an apartment appropriated for their retirement 
at those times, to which both single and married women retreat 
and seclude themselves with the utmost strictness during their 
periods. The men, on these occasions, most carefully avoid hold- 
ing any communication with them, and the Naudowessies are so 
rigid in this observance that they will not suffer any belonging to 
them to fetch such things as are necessary, even fire, from those 
female lunar retreats, though the want of them is attended with 
the greatest inconvenience." 278 

Winnebago women "always take their blankets with them 
when they go to a menstrual lodge, for they never lie down but 
remain in a sitting posture, wrapped in their blankets. The women 
are always watched, so that when their menstrual flow comes 
everything is in readiness and lodge poles are placed around them 
and a lodge erected above their head just about large enough to 
fit their body. They are not permitted to look upon the daylight 
nor upon any individual. If they were to look out during the day 



92 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

the weather would become very bad, and if they were to look at 
the blue sky it would become cloudy and rain. If they looked at 
anyone that person would become unfortunate. For four days 
they do not eat or drink anything ; not even water do they drink. 
They fast all the time. Not even their own bodies do they touch 
with their hands. If they ever have any need of touching their 
bodies, they use a stick. If they were to use their hands in touch- 
ing their bodies, their bones would be attacked with fever. If 
they were to scratch their hands, their heads would ache. After 
the fourth day they bathe in sight of their houses. Then they 
return to their homes and eat." 274 

By the California Indians a girl at puberty "was thought to 
be possessed of a particular degree of supernatural power, and 
this was not always regarded as entirely defiling or malevolent. 
Often, however, there was a strong feeling of the power of evil 
inherent in her condition. Not only was she secluded from her 
family and the community, but an attempt was made to seclude 
the world from her. One of the injunctions most strongly laid 
upon her was not to look about her. She kept her head bowed and 
was forbidden to see the world and the sun. Some tribes covered 
her with a blanket. Many of the customs in this connection re- 
sembled those of the North Pacific Coast most strongly, such as 
the prohibition to the girl to touch or scratch her head with her 
hand, a special implement being furnished her for the purpose. 
Sometimes she could eat only when fed and in other cases fasted 
altogether. Some form of public ceremony, often accompanied by 
a dance and sometimes by a form of ordeal for the girl, was prac- 
tised nearly everywhere." 275 

The mysteriousness and therefore the assumed dangerousness 
of pregnancy, childbirth, and menstruation have thus given rise 
to many restrictions affecting women in primitive society. Se- 
clusion, fasting, cessation of the usual activities, and avoidance 
of the opposite sex are normal features of the taboos enforced. 
These taboos are especially rigorous when a woman first becomes 
pregnant, gives birth to her first child, or menstruates for the 
first time, since it is on such critical occasions that she is most a 
peril to herself and to the community. The mystic dangers antici- 
pated center around the lochial and catamenial discharges. Some- 
times we are expressly told that this is the case, as among the 
Thonga, "where any birth is taboo, owing to the lochia." 27 * As 
for the menstrual blood, the horror which it excites is frequently 
mentioned or is clearly implied by our authorities. 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 93 

The wide diffusion of these taboos, the rigor of their observ- 
ance, and their survival among many peoples of archaic civiliza- 
tion and even among civilized peoples today points to their great 
antiquity. The ideas back of them must be deeply implanted in 
the human mind. Some taboos, as we shall see, turn out to have 
a certain practical value, but it is difficult to discover any specific 
utility for most of those which have now been considered. The 
trouble, pain, and hardship which they involve have been unneces- 
sary a tribute paid to man's ignorance and folly through un- 
numbered centuries. 

The attainment of reproductive power by males is marked by 
physical and physiological changes scarcely less impressive than 
in the case of females. Consequently, boys at puberty or at ini- 
tiation (when this rite does not coincide with the arrival of 
puberty) are often thought of as being in a dangerous state, 
dangerous to themselves as well as to others. The precautions and 
avoidances which they must then observe and the purificatory rites 
to which they are submitted correspond in character to those 
imposed upon pubescent girls. Boys, also, must undergo a period 
of seclusion and retirement from the world; they must submit 
to a severe restriction of the quantity and quality of their food ; 
they must bear with fortitude many torments and ordeals; and 
they must take part in various ceremonies intended to express the 
idea that they have "died" to their old childish ways and have 
now entered the "new life" of manhood, with all its attendant 
privileges and responsibilities. It is usual to initiate a number of 
boys at the same time. During their initiatory seclusion the 
novices receive a careful training in everything that pertains to 
their future career. They learn various practical arts; the native 
songs, dances, and games; the traditions and taboos; and the 
customs relating to marriage. The moral code imparted at this 
time is often of surprising excellence, though, of course, it relates 
only to fellow-tribesmen. The novices are also told the legends 
concerning the deity who founded and still watches over the 
ceremonies ; sometimes they are shown an image of him ; and they 
are allowed to utter his real and secret name, which women and 
children never know. The initiatory rites form, in short, a cove- 
nant with the tribal god and a sacred bond of brotherhood between 
all who participate in them. 277 

Just as girls at their first menstruation are forbidden to see 
or be seen by men or to hold any communication with them, so 
boys being initiated are carefully separated from women, even 



94 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

their own mothers and sisters. This separation may continue for 
some time after the initiatory ceremonies are concluded. In the 
Narrinyeri tribe of South Australia, the novices are not allowed 
to eat any food which is restricted to women. They are also for- 
bidden to eat with women, "lest they grow ugly or become gray." 
Everything they possess or obtain becomes "sacred" (narumbe) 
from the touch of women. 278 Among the Kurnai of Victoria the 
novices "are specially warned against touching a woman, or letting 
a woman touch them, or receiving anything from one. Even the 
shadow of a woman falling on a boy at such a time would be evil 
magic." 279 Among the Lower Murray tribes the boys may not 
look at a woman for three months after initiation, "as the sight 
of one during this probation would be the means of entailing 
numberless misfortunes, such as withering up of limbs, loss of 
eyesight, and, in fact, general decrepitude." 280 Among the tribes 
of the Elema district, British New Guinea, boys during initiation 
live in the men's house. Their food is left there by the women, 
who, however, must not talk to them or be seen by them. 281 In 
the northern New Hebrides boys undergoing initiation are placed 
in enclosures where they remain unwashed and with very little 
food and water for sometimes thirty days. No woman, under 
pain of death, may look upon them until they have returned to 
ordinary life. "They come out black with dirt and soot, and are 
not to be seen until they have washed. Not long ago a girl from 
the Uta, inland, saw by accident this washing. She fled to Ta- 
nouki, where the Mission school is, for refuge, but they could 
not protect her. The Uta people sent for her and she went, know- 
ing that she could not fail to die, and they buried her, unresisting, 
alive." 282 No Basuto woman is allowed to approach the boys who 
have been circumcised and are secluded thereafter for three 
months in the bush. 283 Among the Thonga the high fence of 
thorny branches, surrounding the lodge where the secret rites take 
place, may not be seen by uninitiated persons, especially women. 284 
Elaborate festivities mark the return of the newly-initiated 
to ordinary life, and they become the objects of much attention 
on the part of the marriageable girls. At such a time a good deal 
of license, especially in sexual matters, is often accorded them, 
and a period of almost indiscriminate cohabitation ensues. This 
may be regarded as a formal removal of the prohibition previously 
resting on unions of young people of immature age. Initiation 
is usually followed by marriage, but where the number of women 
is limited or the conditions of existence are very difficult, full 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 95 

matrimonial privileges are not always immediately accorded to 
the initiates. The Australian elders, in particular, seem to be very 
successful in monopolizing the women of the class with which 
they may marry. 

Puberty rites for girls are not, as a rule, socialized. Girls re- 
main in seclusion alone or attended by female relations until their 
ordeal is over. Often there is no attempt at a formal initiation, 
with secret ceremonies in which all the married women participate. 
On the other hand, the rites for boys have both a civil and a re- 
ligious character, being designed to prepare them for their duties 
as members of the tribe (the initiated men) and to admit them 
to the mysteries of the tribal religion. These objects are secured, 
however crudely and imperfectly. There can be no question as to 
the general excellence of the initiatory training, nor as to its per- 
manent effects for good upon the character of the initiates. In 
primitive communities destitute of all governmental authority 
save that of the tribal elders, the boys' initiation rites make pos- 
sible a system of social control which demands and receives the 
unquestioning obedience of every member of the community. It 
is this fact which gives to them their extraordinary significance. 



NOTES TO CHAPTER II 

1 See J. A. MacCulloch, "Pregnancy," Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion 
and Ethics, X, 242-44; E. S. Hartland, "Birth (Introduction)," ibid., II, 635-42; 
Arnold van Gennep, Les rites de passage (Paris, 1909), pp. 57-92; P loss- Bar tels- 
Bartels, Das Weib in dcr Natur- und Volkerkunde (llth ed., Leipzig, 1927; 
English translation, edited by E. J. Dingwall, Woman [London, 1935], 3 vols.). 
See also Sir J. G. Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of the Soul (The Golden Bough, 
3d ed., Part II) (London, 1911), pp. 145-57; L. Levy-Bruhl, Primitives and the 
Supernatural (London, 1936), pp. 292-341. 

2 A. Grimble, "From Birth to Death in the Gilbert Islands," Journal of the 
Royal Anthropological Institute, LI (1921), 34. 

8 J. G. F. Riedel, De sluik-en kroesharige rassen tusschen Selebes en Papua 
('s Gravenhage, 1886), pp. 72 (Amboina), 207 (Watubela Islands), 417 (Kisar). 

4 J. R. Warneck, Die Religion der Batak (Gottingen, 1909), p. 95. 

8 E. Casalis, The Basutos (London, 1861), p. 251. 

6 Sir H. H. Johnston, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XV 
(1886), 8. Among the Wachagga, neighbors of the Wataveta, a pregnant woman 
wears a noisy iron rattle upon her thigh (W. L. Abbott, in Report of the U.S. 
National Museum for 1891, p. 398). 

T M. J. Field, Religion and Medicine of the Ga People (Oxford, 1937), 
p. 164. 

8 J. L. van Hasselt, in Mitteilungen der geographischen Gesellschaft (fur 
Thuringen) zu Jena, IX (1891), 102. On the other hand, there are primitive 
peoples who seek the services of pregnant women in agricultural work. The 



96 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

inhabitants of the Nicobar Islands think themselves very lucky to get a pregnant 
woman to plant seed in their gardens (Sir R. C. Temple, in Census of India, 
1901, III, 206). Among the Zulus she sometimes grinds corn, which is subse- 
quently burnt among the half-grown crops as a means of fertilizing them 
(Dudley Kidd, Savage Childhood [London, 1906], p. 291). For further instances 
see Sir J. G. Frazer, The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings (The Golden, 
Bough, 3d ed., Part I) (London, 1911), I, 139 ff. 

9 S. Lehner, in R. Neuhauss, Deutsch Neu-Guinea (Berlin, 1913), III, 425 f . 

10 E. Best, "Ceremonial Performances Pertaining to Birth, as Performed 
by the Maori of New Zealand in Past Times," Journal of the Royal Anthro- 
pological Institute, XLIV (1914), 129. 

11 W. C. Willoughby, Nature-Worship and Taboo (Hartford, Connecticut, 
1932), pp. 128 f. 

12 E. W. Smith and A. M. Dale, The Ila-speaking Peoples of Northern 
Rhodesia (London, 1920), I, 231. 

**lbid., II, 10 f. 

" A. T. Culwick and G. M. Culwick, Ubena of the Rivers (London, 1935), 
pp. 359 f . 

" Elise Kootz-Kretschmer, Die Safwa (Berlin, 1926-1929), I, 66 f. 
' 1C D. R. MacKenzie, The Spirit-ridden Konde (London, 1925), p. 106. 

17 John Roscoe, The Northern Bantu (Cambridge, 1915), p. 79. 

18 A. R. Wallace, A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro 
(London, 1853), pp. 501 f. An Indian woman of Wallace's acquaintance had to 
live on cassave bread and fruits, abstaining from all animal food, peppers, and 
salt (loc. cit.). 

19 E. F. Im Thurn, Among the Indians of Guiana (London, 1883), p. 233. 

20 W. G. Sumner, "The Yakuts. Abridged from the Russian of Sieroshev- 
ski," Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXI (1901), 96. 

21 E. B. Riley, Among Papuan Headhunters (London, 1925), p. 119. 

22 K. Vetter, in Nachrichten iiber Kaiser Wilhelms-Land und den Bismarck- 
Archipel, XIII (1897), 87. 

28 F. Vormann, in Anthropos, V (1910), 411. 

2 *Hortense Powdermaker, Life in Lesu (New York, 1933), pp. 63, 267. In 
Lesu, a village of New Ireland, a man and his wife observe the same sexual 
taboos, though for a much shorter time, when their pigs are giving birth. They 
do not cohabit when the pig is expected to give birth and also during the first 
month that the young pig is suckled. Should this taboo be broken, the young pig 
would sicken and die, "and pigs are very valuable property" (pp. 79 f.). 

25 F. W. Leggatt, in H. L. Roth, The Natives of Sarawak and British 
North Borneo (London, 18%), I, 98. The Sea Dayak make a distinction between 
the two species of taboos which they observe, namely, those which absolutely 
forbid certain kinds of work to a person under the ban and those which allow 
other kinds of work to be undertaken if started by someone not subject to the 
ban (Roth, loc. cit.). 

28 Willoughby, Nature Worship and Taboo, p. 129. 

27 W. L. Warner, A Black Civilisation (New York, 1937), p. 78 (Murngin 
of Arnhem Land, Northern Territory of Australia) ; Powdermaker, Life in 
Lesu t p. 63 (New Ireland) ; S. Ella, in Report of the Fourth Meeting of the 
Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science (1892), p. 62 (Loyalty 
Islands) ; C. G. Seligman, "The Medicine, Surgery, and Midwifery of the Sinau- 
golo," Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXII (1902), 301 (British 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 97 

New Guinea); E. Tregear, ibid., XIX (1890), 103 (Maori); W. D. Hambly, 
The Ovimbundu of Angola (Chicago, 1934), pp. 183 f.; Gerhard Lindblom, The 
Akamba (Uppsala, 1920), p. 29; J. H. Weeks, in Journal of the Royal Anthro- 
pological Institute, XL (1910), 367 (Lower Congo tribes) ; P. F. X. de Charle- 
voix, Histoire et description generate de la Nouvelle France (Paris, 1744), V, 
426 (Hurons and Iroquois). 

28 D. F. Thomson, "Fatherhood in the Wik Monkan Tribe," American 
Anthropologist (n.s., 1936), XXXVIII, 375 if. 

29 Margaret Mead, in Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of 
Natural History, XXXVII, 350. 

80 1. Schapera, Married Life in an African Tribe (London, 1940), pp. 198 f . 

81 Idem, A Handbook of Tswana Law and Custom (Oxford, 1938), p. 154. 

82 Sir H. H. Johnston, George Grenfell and the Congo (London, 1908), II, 
676. 

88 P. A. Talbot, The Peoples of Southern Nigeria (Oxford, 1926), II, 354. 

84 E. S. C. Handy, "The Native Culture in the Marquesas," Bernice P. 
Bishop Museum Bulletin, No. 9, p. 72. 

88 G. L. D. de Rienzi, Oceanie, II (Paris, 1836-1837), 178. 

8 W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas (London, 1906), pp. 313 ft. The Toda cere- 
monies are carried out only when a woman is bearing her first child, and when, 
therefore, her uncleanness may be considered at its maximum. 

87 Herbert Ward, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXIV (1895), 
289. 

88 Mrs. James Smith, The Booandik Tribe of South Australian Aborigines 
(Adelaide, 1880), p. 5. 

89 F. J. Gillen, in Report on the Work of the Horn Scientific Expedition to 
Central Australia, Part IV, p. 166. 

40 Margaret Mead, in Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of 
Natural History, XXXVII, 414. 

" H. I. Hogbin, in Oceania, V (1934-1935), 331. 

42 W. J. Erdweg, in Mittheilungen der anthropologischen Gesellschaft in 
Wien t XXXII (1902), 280. The Yir-Yorunt, a Queensland tribe, do not allow a 
young man to be present at the birth of a child (L. Sharp, "Ritual Life and 
Economics of the Yir-Yorunt of Cape York Peninsula," Oceania, V [1934-1935], 
40). Doubtless young men are considered to be more susceptible to the contagion 
of feminine impurity than are men of riper years. 

43 W. G. Ivens, The Island Builders of the Pacific (London, 1930), p. 104. 

44 E. S. C. Handy, "Polynesian Religion," Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bul- 
letin, No. 34, p. 48. 

45 Edward Tregear, The Maori Race (Wanganui, New Zealand, 1904), p. 41 ; 
E. Best, "The Where Kohanga (the 'Nest House') and Its Lore," Dominion 
Museum Bulletin, No. 13, pp. 9, 15. 

46 W. H. Millington and B. L. Maxwell, "Philippine (Visayan) Supersti- 
tions," Journal of American Folk-Lore, XIX (1906), 209. 

4 *E. H. Man, The Nicobar Islands and Their People (London, [1932]), 
p. 66. 

4 Peter Kolben, The Present State of the Cape of Good Hope (London, 
1731), I, 140. 

49 Smith and Dale, Ila-speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia, II, 7. 

8 F. G. H. Price, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, I (1872), 188 f. 



100 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

96 Charles Hose and William McDougall, The Pagan Tribes of Borneo 
(London, 1912), II, 156. 

98 A. E. Jenks, The Bontoc Igorot (Department of the Interior, Ethnologi- 
cal Survey Publications, Vol. I) (Manila, 1905), p. 60. 

i P. R. T. Gurdon, The Khasis (2d ed., London, 1914), p. 127. The Ao 
consider twins very unlucky (J. P. Mills, The Ao Nagas [London, 1926], p. 267). 
The Sema also dislike them, partly owing to the added trouble for the mother, 
partly to a belief that, being less strong than single children, if one dies the 
other will not long survive. Some people believe that the birth of twins is 
followed by the early death of both parents (J. H. Hutton, The Sema Nagaf 
[London, 1921], p. 262), On the other hand, the Memi are said to think twins 
very lucky ; hence they are always helped first when any food is being distributed 
(J. Shakespear, in J. H. Hutton, The Angami Nagas [London, 1921], pp. 341 f.). 
It is difficult to reconcile this statement with the fact that no work is done on 
the day when twins are born it is a genna or tabooed day. 

98 H. F. Standing, The Children of Madagascar (London, 1887), p. 31. 

99 Kidd, Savage Childhood, pp. 45 ff. 

100 Stayt, op. cit. t p. 91. 

ii Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed.), II, 319, 433 ff. For 
the unsavory details of the woman's final purification see p. 436. 

i 2 E. Dannert, in (South African) Folk-Lore Journal, II (1880), 109 ff. 
According to a later authority, the parents are regarded as unclean and may 
not speak to anyone or be greeted by anyone until they have been purified (J. 
Irle, Die Herero [Giitersloh, 1906], pp. 96 ff:). The uncleanness of the parents 
probably explains the fact that among the Awemba the father of twins is the 
only male who is allowed to visit a girl during her seclusion at her first men- 
struation (C. Gouldsbury and H. Sheane, The Great Plateau of Northern 
Rhodesia [London, 1911], p. 159). 

108 Gouldsbury and Sheane, op. cit., pp. 275 f . 

104 C. W. Hobley, Bantu Beliefs and Magic (London, 1922), p. 114. Simi- 
lar customs prevail among the Akikuyu (pp. 154 ff.). 

i5 A. C. Hollis, The Nandi (Oxford, 1909), pp. 68, 91. 

106 K. R. Dundas, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLIII 
(1913), 33. 

107 P. B. Du Chaillu, L'Afrique sauvage (Paris, 1868), pp. 226 f . 

108 Hugh Goldie, Calabar and Its Mission (London, 1890), pp. 23 ff. 

109 H. Klose, Togo unter deutscher Flagge (Berlin, 1899), pp. 509 f . 
11 N. W. Thomas, in Man, XIX (1919), 173. 

111 G. T. Basden, Niger Ibos (London, [1938]), pp. 181 f. On the treatment 
of twins by other Nigerian tribes see Talbot, Peoples of Southern Nigeria, III, 
719 ff.; Mary H. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (London, 1897), pp. 472 ff. 

112 Rafael Karsten, The Ciznfaation of the South American Indians (Lon- 
don, 1926), p. 148. 

i T. W. Whiffen, in Folk-Lore, XXIV (1913), 45. 

114 Theodor Koch-Griinberg, Zwei Jahre unter den Indianern (Berlin, 
1910), II, 146. 

"OH. von Walde-Waldegg, in Primitive Man, IX (1936), 42 f. 

116 J. R. S wanton, in Forty-second Annual Report of the Bureau of Ameri- 
can Ethnology, p. 361 (Creek Indians) ; F. Boas, in Thirty-seventh Annual Re- 
port, pp. 686 ff. (Kwakiutl). While the Quinault Indians of Washington are 
said to have manifested "no horror" of twins, nevertheless, the parents had to 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 101 

observe a number of taboos. They might not fish for twenty days, lest the fish 
stop running. The father, in addition, refrained from hunting for two years, in 
order not to frighten away all game animals. He sometimes camped in the 
woods for a month after the birth of twins (R. L. Olson, The Quinault Indians 
[Seattle, Wash., 1936], p. 100). 

117 S. M. Shirokogoroff, Social Organization of the Northern Tungus 
(Shanghai, 1929), p. 275, note 1. 

118 For the widespread belief that twin children possess extraordinary 
powers over nature, especially over rain and the weather, see Frazer, The 
Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings (The Golden Bough, 3d ed., Part I), 
I, 262-69. 

119 Kolben, The Present State of the Cape of Good Hope, I, 142 f . 

120 P. A. W. Cook, Social Organisation and Ceremonial Institutions of the 
Bomvana (Cape Town and Johannesburg, [1931]), p. 103. 

1 21 M. Merker, Die Masai (Berlin, 1904), p. 51. 

122 Roscoe, The Baganda, pp. 64 ff. 

123 C. W. Hobley, The Soul of Central Africa (London, 1922), pp. 186 f. 
The Banyoro do not observe the same attitude toward triplets, whose birth is 
regarded as a calamity. If left alive they would bring some evil on the country. 
The mother and her children, together with her father and mother, are taken to 
some waste land and put to death. The father is not killed, but his eyes are 
gouged out so that he may never again behold the king, who would be injured 
by his polluting glance (loc. cit.). 

124 J. H. Driberg, The Lango (London, 1923), p. 144. 
"'Wilhelm Hofmayr, Die Schilluk (Modling bei Wien, 1925), p. 275. 

128 A. M. Vergiat, Mceurs et coutumes des Manjas (Paris, 1937), pp. 48 ff. 

H. L. Roth, Great Benin (Halifax, England, 1903), p. 35. 

128 Samuel Johnson, The History of the Yorubas (London, 1921), p. 80. 

120 S. S. Farrow, Faith, Fancies, and Fetich, or Yoruba Paganism (London, 
1926), pp. 21 f., 58. However, in the eastern part of Yorubaland, in the district 
of Ondo, twins are put to death as soon as possible (p. 58). 

130 M. J. Herskovits, Dahomey (New York, 1938), I, 263. Infants born with 
some anomaly, for example, one with the umbilical cord about the neck, or with 
a caul, or with feet foremost, are put in the category of twins and are treated 
accordingly (I, 272). 

131 Diedrich Westermann, Die Kpelle (Gottingen and Leipzig, 1921), p. 68. 
2 Leslie Spier, Yuman Tribes of the Gila River (Chicago, 1933), p. 213. 
188 J. R. Swanton, in Forty-second Annual Report of the Bureau of Ameri- 
can Ethnology, p. 615. 

134 j. Teit, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, 

II, 310 f. 

"5 See Robert Briffault, The Mothers (New York, 1927), II, 390-97; Ed- 
ward Westermarck, The History of Human Marriage (5th ed., London, 1921), 

III, 67-70. 

136 C. G. Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea (Cambridge, 
1910), p. 86. A similar rule is observed by the Keraki (F. E. Williams, Papuans 
of the Trans-Fly [Oxford, 1936], p. 175). 

187 Margaret Mead, in Anthropological Papers of the American Museum 
of Natural History, XXXVII, 345. 

138 Bronislaw Malinowski, The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western 
Melanesia (New York, 1929), p. 233. 



102 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

is* Powdermaker, Life in Lesu, p. 79. 

140 Beatrice Blackwood, Both Sides of Buka Passage (Oxford, 1935), 
pp. 156 f. Among the Buin people of Bougainville Island sexual intercourse is 
avoided only during the time that the mother is secluded in the birth hut (Hilde 
Thurnwald, "Woman's Status in Buin Society/' Oceania, V [1934-1935], 166). 

"* Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe, I, 56 ff., 188. 

142 H. Griitzner, "tJber die Gebrauche der Basuto," Verhandlungen der 
Berliner Gesellschaft fur Anthropologie, Ethnologic, und Urgeschichte, 1877, 
p. (78) (bound with Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, Vol. IX). 

148 Culwick and Culwick, Ubena of the Rivers, p. 375. 

144 J. H. Weeks, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XL 
(1910), 367. Similar rules prevail among the Bakongo (idem, Among the Primi- 
tive Bakongo [London, 1914], p. 148). 

146 E. Torday and T. A. Joyce, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 
XXXV (1905), 410. 

146 Vergiat, Mceurs et coutumes des Manjas, p. 42 and note 2. 

14 * A. Poupon, in U Anthropologie, XXVI (1915), 125. 

148 A. W. Cardinall, The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold 
Coast (London [1920]), p. 69. 

149 Berthold Seeman, Viti (Cambridge, 1862), p. 191. The Fijians have a 
word, dabe, which signifies the injury sustained by a child whose parents have 
cohabited too soon. In the opinion of the natives the decay of the custom of 
sexual abstinence during the period of lactation is an important cause of the 
infant mortality prevalent among them. See G. H. Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers, The 
Clash of Cultures and the Contact of Races (London, 1927), pp. 125, 146 f., 191. 

iso sir Basil H. Thomson, The Diversions of a Prime Minister (Edinburgh 
and London, 1894), p. 375. 

151 Schapera, Married Life in a South African Tribe, p. 200. The couple 
practice coitus interruptus or use some other contraceptive method. 

162 Herskovits, Dahomey, I, 268. 

l " Basden, Niger Ibos, p. 230. 

1 4 Mrs. K. L. Parker, The Euahlayi Tribe (London, 1905), p. 39. Among 
some of the tribes of New South Wales part of the woman's hair is burned off 
just before she returns from her seclusion. Every vessel that has been used by 
her is also burned (W. Ridlev, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, II, 
[1873], 268). 

166 C. G. Seligman, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXII, 
(1902), 302. 

156 Riley, Among Papuan Headhunters, p. 28. 

167 J. L. van Hasselt, in Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-Land-en Volken- 
kunde f XXXI (1886), 587. 

16 A. P. Lyons, in Man, XXV (1925), 131. 

18 Hilde Thurnwald, "Woman's Status in Buin Society," Oceania, V (1934- 
1935), 165. 

leoGlaumont, "Usages, mceurs, et coutumes des Neo-Caledoniens," Revue 
d'ethnographie, VII (1889), 79. 

"! W. Deane, Fijian Society (London, 1921), pp. 13 f. 
162 George Turner, Samoa (London, 1884), p. 276. 

168 Captain James Wilson, Missionary Voyage to the Southern Pacific Ocean 
(London, 1799), p. 354. 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 103 

i* David Malo, Hawaiian Antiquities (Honolulu, 1903), pp. 183 f. These 
restrictions applied only to royal mothers and other women of rank, who were 
in a state of taboo during their entire pregnancy and until their final purification. 
Commoners did not observe the restrictions (loc. cit.). 

i E. Tregear, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XIX (1890), 98; 
Elsdon Best, The Maori as He Was (Wellington, New Zealand, 1924), p. 99. 

" Fay-Cooper Cole, The Tenguian (Chicago, 1922), pp. 265 ff. 

ir w. W. Skeat, Malay Magic (London, 1900), pp. 342 ff. The Mintira or 
Mantra of the Malay Peninsula place a mother near the fire in order to keep 
away the evil spirits anxious to drink her blood (J. R. Logan, in Journal of the 
Indian Archipelago and Eastern Asia, I [1847], 270). For the Siamese ritual 
of purification, in which exposure to fire also plays a large part and a part ex- 
ceedingly prejudicial to the welfare of both mother and child, see H. G. Q. 
Wales, "Siamese Theory and Ritual Connected with Pregnancy, Birth, and In- 
fancy," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, LXIII (1933), 446 f. 

1M Mrs. Leslie Milne, Shans at Home (London, 1910), pp. 33 f . 

169 F. Fawcett, in Journal of the Anthropological Society of Bombay, I, 
(1886-1889), 536 f. The Adivi, also called Forest Gallas, form a section of the 
Gollavalu of Mysore. 

170 Standing, The Children of Madagascar, p. 29. 

"i Dudley Kidd, The Essential Kafir (2d ed., London, 1925), p. 201. 

172 Stayt, The Bavenda, p. 86. 

178 E. Dannert, in (South African) Folk-Lore Journal, II (1880), 63. From 
this account it would appear that the Herero woman is extremely dangerous 
to men, so that "sacred" in her case might better be expressed by "unclean." 
However, we learn that her mysterious influence is positively beneficial to cattle, 
for every morning the milk of all the cows is brought to her so that she may 
consecrate it by touching it with her lips. See Hans Schinz, Deutsch-Sudwest- 
Afrika (Oldenburg and Leipzig, [1891]), p. 167; Irle, Herero, p. 94. 

174 Stirke, Barotseland, p. 62. The woman's purification, by transferring the 
birth contamination to strangers, is further illustrated by the Thonga rule which 
requires the mother of twins to sexually "deceive" four men one after another, 
all of whom will die. She hears that so-and-so "becomes livid, that his body 
swells, that he is dead ! She knows the reason. He has taken her defilement !" 
(Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe [2d ed.], II, 436). By the Akikuyu 
the mother of twins is handed over to another man until she has borne him a 
child ; then she returns to her husband. The mother of a child that cuts its upper 
teeth before its lower must cohabit for a month with a friend of her husband 
(Hobley, Bantu Beliefs and Magic, pp. 154 f.). 

178 W. S. Routledge and Katherine Routledge, With a Prehistoric People 
(London, 1910), p. 147. 

17 Hollis, The Nandi, pp. 65, 92. 

177 Roscoe, The Baganda, p. 55. 

178 Franz Stuhlmann, Mit Emin Pascha ins Herz von Afrika (Berlin, 1894), 
p. 795. 

17 A. B. Ellis, The Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast of West Africa 
(London, 1887), p. 223. 

180 R. E. Latcham, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 
XXXIX (1909), 359 f 

181 James Adair, History of the American Indians (London, 1775), p. 124. 



104 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

182 Charlevoix, Histoire et description generale de la Nouvelle France, V, 
425. 

188 Mary A. Owen, Folk-Lore of the Musquakie Indians of North America 
(London, 1904), pp. 63 ff. 

184 S. R. Riggs, in Contributions to North American Ethnology, IX, 208. 

385 A. L. Kroeber, "The Religion of the Indians of California/* University 
of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, IV, 325. 

18 Knud Rasmussen, The Netsilik Eskimos (Copenhagen, 1931), p. 261. 
Report of the Fifth Thule Expedition, Vol. VIII. 

187 W. Jochelson, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, 
X, 101. 

188 Edward Shortland, Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders 
(2d ed., London, 1856), pp. 144 f. 

"a Richard Taylor, Te Ika A Maui (2d ed., London, 1870), p. 185. 

190 Soga, op. cit., p. 293. 

191 Sir Francis Gallon, The Narrative of an Explorer in Tropical South 
Africa (London, 1853), p. 190. 

192 H. Zache, "Sitten und Gebrauche der Suaheli," Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, 
XXXI (1899), 64. 

193 Sir H. H. Johnston, The Uganda Protectorate (2d ed., London, 1904), 
II, 587. A similar spitting ceremony, accompanied by naming the child, is found 
among the Mandingo of Senegambia (Mungo Park, Travels in the Interior Dis- 
tricts of Africa [London, 1816], I, 4011 

194 A. B. Ellis, The Yoruba-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West 
Africa (London, 1894), p. 153. 

195 Frank Russell, in Twenty-sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ameri- 
can Ethnology, p. 187. 

196 J. G. Owens, "Natal Ceremonies of the Hopi Indians," Journal of Ameri- 
can Ethnology and Archaeology, II (1892), 165 ff. 

197 A. W. Whipple, Thomas Ewbank, and W. W. Turner, Report upon the 
Indian Tribes, p. 35. Reports of Explorations and Surveys . ... in 1853-4 
(Washington, D.C., 1856), Vol. III. Among the Cherokee purification in running 
water formed a part of every tribal function. Hence, in the old days, the town 
house was always placed close to the bank of a river (J. Mooney, "The Cherokee 
River Cult," Journal of American Folk-Lore, XIII [1900], 2). 

198 E. Sapir, in American Anthropologist (n.s., 1907), IX, 275. 

199 James Chalmers, Pioneering in New Guinea (London, 1887), p. 164. 

200 Blackwood, Both Sides of Buka Passage, pp. 159 f. 

201 H. P. A. Bakker, in Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-Land-en Volken- 
kunde, XXIX (1888), 415. 

202 John Batchelor, The Ainu and Their Folk-Lore (London, 1901), pp. 
235 f. 

208 H. M. Marshall, The Karen People of Burma (Ohio State University 
Bulletin, Vol. XXVI, No. 13) (Columbus, Ohio, 1922), pp. 287 f. 

2 * Hodson, The Naga Tribes of Manipur, p. 177. In one Tangkhul village 
the father is tabooed in his house for ten days, while the mother goes out the 
day after the child is born (p. 178). 

20 E. H. Man, quoted by H. L. Roth, in Journal of the Anthropological 
Institute, XXII (1893), 215. See, further, George Whitehead, In the Nicobar 
Islands (London, 1924), pp. 115 ff. 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 105 

206 John Cain, in Indian Antiquary, III (1874), 151. 

207 Edgar Thurston, Ethnographic Notes in Southern India (Madras, 1907), 
p. 548. 

208 Thurston, op. cit., p. 549, quoting G. K. Rao. 

209 S. Mateer, "The Pariah Caste in Travancore," Journal of the Royal 
Asiatic Society (n.s., 1884), XVI, 188. 

210 R. B. Bainbridge, in Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1907- 
1910), II, 61. 

211 William Crooke, Things Indian (London, 1906), pp. 59 f.; idem, Natives 
of Northern India (London, 1907), p. 197. 

212 John Campbell, Travels in South Africa .... Second Journey (London, 
1822), II, 207. 

218 J. H. Weeks, Among Congo Cannibals (London, 1913), p. 132. 

214 Martin Gusinde, Die Yamana (Mddling bei Wien, 1937), pp. 711 f. 

215 W. E. Roth, "An Inquiry into the Animism and Folk-Lore of the Guiana 
Indians," Thirtieth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 
321 f., with references to authorities. 

216 See Sir J. G. Frazer, Balder the Beautiful (The Golden Bough, 3d ed., 
Part VII) (London, 1913), I, 22-100; Robert Briffault, The Mothers (New 
York, 1927), II, 365-90. 

217 G. Roheim, "Women and Their Life in Central Australia," Journal of 
the Royal Anthropological Institute, LIII (1933), 234. 

218 J. P. Mills, The Rengma Nagas (London, 1937), p. 212. 

219 Schapera, Handbook of Tswana Law and Custom, p. 38. 

220 H. S. Stannus, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute f XL 
(1910), 305. Among the Akamba, another East African tribe, married people 
usually perform coitus when the woman is menstruating, because of the belief 
that she can be impregnated only at this time (Lindblom, Akamba , p. 40). 

221 W. Bogoras, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, 
XI, 491 f. 

222 E. J. Eyre, Journals of Discovery into Central Australia (London, 1845), 
II, 304. According to Eyre, menstruating women were not allowed to eat fish 
of any kind. Nor might they go near the water, else the men would have no 
success in fishing (II, 295). 

223 R. B. Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria (Melbourne, 1878), I, 46, quot- 
ing H. E. A. Meyer. 

224 A. W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (London, 
1904), pp. 776 f., on the authority of J. C. Muirhead. A Queensland blackfellow, 
having learned that his wife had lain on his blanket at her menstrual period, 
killed her and died of terror himself within a fortnight (W. E. Armit, in Jour- 
nal of the Anthropological Institute, IX [1880], 459). For the Mara myth of 
the origin of the menstruation taboos see Spencer and Gillen, Northern Tribes 
of Central Australia, p. 602. 

226 John Mathew, Two Representative Tribes of Queensland (London and 
Leipzig, 1910), pp. 177 f. 

226 Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, p. 473. 

227 Sir Baldwin Spencer, The Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of 
Australia (London, 1914), p. 327. 

228 Warner, A Black Civilisation, p. 76. This seems to be the only .men- 
struation taboo of general observance by the Murngin. In some of the tribes 



106 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

in the Kimberly division of Western Australia the men are said not to evince 
any disgust or horror of the menstrual state, nor do the women think of them- 
selves as unclean. However, a woman who is menstruating keeps "unobtrusively" 
out of the way and camps apart (Phyllis M. Kaberry, Aboriginal Woman, Sa- 
cred and Profane [London, 1939], p. 238). 

229 C G. Seligman, in Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedi- 
tion to Torres Straits, V, 201. 

280 Blackwood, Both Sides of Buka Passage, pp. 269 f . 

281 A. B. Deacon, Malekula, a Vanishing People in the New Hebrides (Lon- 
don, 1934), p. 156. Similarly, among some of the tribes of the western Sudan, 
the men refrain from every kind of work, from traveling, and from hunting 
during the menstruation of their wives. Since polygyny is common, men have 
many occasions for enforced idleness. See Louis Desplagnes, Le plateau Cen- 
tral Nigtrien (Paris, 1904), p. 227. 

282 Eyriaud des Vergnes, in Revue maritime et coloniale, LII (1877), 727 f. ; 
cf. Louis Rollin, Les lies Marquises (Paris, 1929), p. 171. 

288 E. S. C. Handy, in Bemice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, No. 34, p. 47. 
According to this authority contact with menstrual blood was supposed to cause 
leprosy (loc. cit.). 

284 Honore Laval, Mangareva (Paris, 1938), p. 225. 

285 E. Tregear, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XIX (1890), 
101 ; Shortland, Traditions and Superstitions of the New, Zealanders (2d ed.), 
pp. 115, 292. 

28 E. Best, in Journal of the Polynesian Society, XIV (1905), 215. An early 
missionary noticed that at Mangaia the work of planting and weeding taro beds 
was assigned to "girls" under sixteen years of age and to women who had 
"passed the prime of life" (John Williams, A Narrative of Missionary Enter- 
prises in the South Sea Islands [London, 1838], p. 211). 

287 E. Stephen, in Oceania, VIII (1936-1937), 43. 

288 August Erdland, Die Marshall-Insulaner (Minister in Westphalia, 1914), 
p. Io9. 

239 J. L. van der Toorn, in Bijdragen tot de Taal-Land-en Volkenkunde van 
Nederlandsche-Indie, XXXIX (1890), 66. 

N. Adriani and A. C. Krujt, De Bare'e-sprekende Toradja's van Mid- 
den-Celebes Cs Gravenhage, 1912), II, 3. 

241 J. Macdonald, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XX (1891), 

242 Smith and Dale, The Ila-speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia, II, 27. 
248 Culwick and Culwick, Ubena of the Rivers, p. 253. 

244 M. W. H. Beech, The Suk (Oxford, 1911), p. 11. 

245 c. W. Hobley, Ethnology of A-Kamba and Other East African Tribes 
(Cambridge, 1910), p. 65. In this case, it will be observed, the penalty for the 
breach of a taboo is paid, not by the innocent stranger or by the woman with 
whom he cohabited, but by the real culprit, the girl herself. 

246 /dm, Bantu Beliefs and Magic, p. 112. 

247 Weeks, Among the Primitive Bakongo, pp. 108 f. An Azimba girl, while 
menstruating, wears a special apron to indicate her condition. After she mar- 
ries, the apron is hung over her bed. If her husband does not see it there he 
knows that she is unclean. See H. C. Angus, "The 'Chensamwali' ; or Initiation 
Ceremony of Girls as Performed in Azimba Land, Central Africa," Verhand- 
lungen der Berliner Gesellschaft fur Anthropologie, Ethnologie, und Urge- 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 107 

schichte, 1898, p. (480) (bound with Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, Vol. XXX). 
Mandingo women, when menstruating, paint their faces yellow (Thomas Win- 
terbottom, An Account of the Native Africans in the Neighbourhood of Sierra 
Leone [London, 1803], II, 207). 

248 Field, Religion and Medicine of the Ga People, p. 112. 

2 Ellis, The Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast, pp. 94 f. Among 
some Nigerian tribes menstruating women may not take the regular path in 
front of a juju house (R. G. Granville and F. N. Roth, in Journal of the Anthro- 
pological Institute, XXXVIII [1898], 110). 

2B Talbot, Peoples of Southern Nigeria, III, 712. 

251 Rafael Karsten, The Toba Indians of the Bolivian Gran Chaco (Acta 
Academic Aboensis, Humaniora IV) (Abo, 1923), p. 28. A menstruating 
woman is believed to be in grave danger from the attacks of evil spirits. They 
strive to enter her through the genitals and other orifices of the body, and if they 
succeed, she will either fall ill and die or give birth to a monster. The Toba In- 
dians fancy that these demonic powers take the form of snakes, which in great 
number, although in invisible shape, make their onset on the girl. The snakes 
are also dangerous to women at childbirth; hence these Indians cover carefully 
the ventral parts of the mother after her delivery. See Karsten, Civilisation of 
the South American Indians, pp. 10, 145. 

282 John Gillin, The Barama River Caribs of British Guiana (Papers of the 
Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vol. XIV, No. 2, 
Cambridge, Mass., 1936), p. 72. 

263 P. Radin, in Thirty-seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American 
Ethnology, p. 137. 

254 G. B. Grinnell, "Cheyenne Woman Customs," American Anthropologist 
(n.s., 1902), IV, 13 f. 

255 Stephen Powers, Tribes of California (Contributions to North American 
Ethnology f Vol. Ill, Washington, D.C, 1877), p. 32. The Cherokee Indians do 
not allow a stranger to enter a house where a person lies seriously ill. This 
regulation is intended to prevent any contact with a menstruous or a pregnant 
woman. Should the patient be visited by anyone who came from a house where 
such a woman resides the doctor's treatment would be neutralized. See J. Mooney, 
"The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees," Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau 
of Ethnology, pp. 330 f. 

256 D. Jenness, in National Museum of Canada, Bulletin No. 84 (Anthropo- 
logical Series, No. 20), p. 56. 

207 J. R. Swanton, in Twenty-sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ameri- 
can Ethnology, p. 428. 

258 A. G. Morice, in Annual Archaeological Report, 1905 (Toronto, 1906), 
p. 218. 

259 J. Jette", "On the Superstitions of the Ten'a Indians," Anthropos, VI 
(1911), 699. For the Tinne menstrual blood has health-preserving and curative 
qualities, because it embodies the principle of life. Hence a mother who has lost 
several children will require a surviving child to wear a harness made out of a 
woman's drawers soiled with her blood. Rags thus soiled are steeped in a basin 
of water, and the liquid will then be used as a lotion to bathe young children or 
will be administered to them as an internal remedy. A mother never uses blood 
which she could obtain from herself, but always obtains the soiled rags from 
another woman. The idea seems to be that her own child has already received 
from her all the vital power she could impart, so that it is necessary for the 
treatment to procure an additional store of vitality from someone else (ibid., 



108 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

pp. 257, 703). The Ainu of Japan consider menstrual blood to possess a talis- 
manic property, so much so that a man who sees a drop of it on the floor will 
wipe it up and rub it over his chest. He will even ask the menstruating woman 
to give him a piece of her menstrual cloth (B. Pilsudski, ibid., V [1910], 774). 
The Mountain Arapesh of British New Guinea believe that a man who sees a 
marsalai, a supernatural being usually embodied in some water creature, will 
die unless he can get the help of a menstruating woman. "She either gives him 
a drink of water in which leaves stained with menstrual blood have been soaked 
or she massages his chest or beats him upon the chest with her closed fist, while 
he holds aloft his right hand, the hand which he uses in hunting, to keep 'the 
power of getting food for children' " (Margaret Mead, in Anthropological Papers 
of the American Museum of Natural History, XXXVII, 345). In this cerembny 
the. potency of the woman will exorcise the evil influence possessing the man, but 
since contact with her is dangerous it must not be allowed to affect his prowess 
as a hunter. The Ba-51a of Northern Rhodesia believe that tsetse flies can be 
driven away if menstruating women will go where the flies are, sit down, and 
allow themselves to be bitten. Thus their mysterious radiation, ordinarily so 
baneful, may be turned to a beneficent use (Smith and Dale, The Ila-speakiny 
Peoples of Northern Rhodesia, II, 27). Among the Bavenda of the Transvaal, 
before a wife is restored to normal life after her confinement, she is visited 
ceremonially by her husband, who proceeds to rub on the palms of his hands and 
the soles of his feet a powder made from the blood of a menstruous woman. The 
wife then presents him with a bracelet. It must be given to him before he may 
accept food from her or sit anywhere in the hut where she has sat during the 
birth of the child. If this purificatory rite is not performed, the husband will be 
attacked by a shivering disease from which he will not recover (Stayt, The 
Bavenda, p. 88). 

260 Rasmussen, Netsilik Eskimos, p. 262. 

28i W. Bogoras, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, 
XI, 492. 

262 J. G. Georgi, Les nations Samoytdes et Mandshoures (Description des 
toutes les nations de I'empire de Russie t Part III) (St. Petersburg, 1777), p. 15. 

268 R. H. Mathews, Ethnological Notes on the Aboriginal Tribes of New 
South Wales and Victoria (Sydney, 1905), pp. 132 ff. 

264 Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 460 f. 

265 George Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians (London, 1910), pp. 107 f., 
quoting the Rev. R. H. Rickard. 

288 A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, The Andaman Islanders (Cambridge, 1933), p. 93. 

267 C. G. Seligman and Brenda Z. Seligman, The Veddas (Cambridge, 
1911), p. 94 f. 

288 James Macdonald, Religion and Myth (London, 1893), pp. 196 ff. 

28 Hollis, The Nandi, pp. 59 f., 90 f. The "circumcision" of Nandi girls is 
confined to excision of the clitoris ; for this purpose a special knife is used. 

270 Roscoe, The Baganda, p. 80. Jumping over a wife or stepping over her 
legs is regarded by the Baganda as equivalent to, or as a substitute for, co- 
habitation with her (p. 357, note 1). It seems to be clear from the account above 
that, while the Baganda display the usual attitude toward a menstruating woman, 
they also regard her condition as entirely natural and consequently manifest 
some fear of a woman who does not menstruate. The catamenial flow has for 
them beneficent as well as malefic qualities. The Warundi, another East African 
tribe, instead of secluding a girl at puberty, lead her all over the house and have 
her touch everything, so that she may bless the objects with which she comes into 



THE REPRODUCTIVE LIFE 109 

contact. See Oscar Baumann, Durch Massailand zur NUquelle (Berlin, 1894), 
p. 221. 

271 Wallace, Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro, p. 496. 

272 Adair, History of the American Indians, pp. 123 f. 

273 Jonathan Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North America 
(3d ed., London, 1781), pp. 236 f. 

274 Paul Radin, in Thirty-seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American 
Ethnology, p. 137, quoting an Indian informant. 

276 A. L. Kroeber, in University of California Publications in American 
Archaeology and Ethnology, IV, 324. 

276 Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed., II, 319) ; cf . p. 357. 
Among the Latuka of the Upper Nile the earth on which lochial blood has 
fallen must be scraped up with a shovel and buried, together with the water 
used to wash the child and the knife with which its navel string was cut (Emin 
Pasha, in Stuhlmann, Mit Emin Pascha ins Hers von Afrika, p. 795). 

277 See Count Goblet d'Alviella, "Initiation (Introductory and Primitive)," 
Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, VII, 314-19; Sir P. J. Hamil- 
ton-Grierson, "Puberty," ibid., X, 440-46; R. Thurnwald, "Junglingsweihe," 
Ebert's Reallexikon der Vorgeschichte, VI, 172-87; H. Webster, Primitive 
Secret Societies (2d ed., New York, 1932), pp. 20-73; A. van Gennep, Les rites 
de passage (Paris, 1909), pp. 93-164; A. E. Jensen, Beschneidung und Reifezere- 
monien bei Naturvolkern (Stuttgart, 1933). On the ritual of death and resur- 
rection see Sir J. G. Frazer, Balder the Beautiful (The Golden Bough, Part VII) 
(London, 1913), II, 225-78. 

278 George Taplin, in J. D. Woods (editor), The Native Tribes of South 
Australia (Adelaide, 1879), pp. 17 f., 69. 

279 Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia, p. 402. Novices are 
also forbidden to eat of a female animal (p. 633). 

280 P. Beveridge, in Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New 
South Wales, XVII (1883), 27. 

281 J. [H.] Holmes, "Initiation Ceremonies of Natives of the Papuan Gulf," 
Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXII (1902), 420 f. 

282 R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians (Oxford, 1891), p. 87. 
288 K. Endemann, in Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, VI (1874), 38. 
28 * Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed.), I, 77. 



CHAPTER III 
SEPARATION OF THE SEXES 



THE supposed uncleanness of women at certain periods of their 
reproductive life would seem to be chiefly responsible for the wide- 
spread notion of their permanent uncleanness, and that notion, in 
turn, accounts for the imposition of various tabops designed to 
prevent the contact of the sexes or to minimize the danger believed 
to be involved in such contact. These taboos weigh heavily on 
women in primitive society and restrict their activity in many 
ways, both secular and religious. It is significant in this connec- 
tion that cases are known where old women, who have therefore 
passed the age of menstruation and childbearing, are considered 
more or less as men and so are no longer subject to the usual re- 
strictions on their sex. 

The natives of Central Australia refer to an old woman by 
a term which, translated literally, means "woman father." 1 Among 
the Zulu old women "are called men" and are allowed to go near 
the army when it starts out on a campaign. 2 Among the South 
American Indians old women are "no more real women," and 
may, therefore, take part in certain tribal ceremonies and indulge 
in habits which are considered unwomanly for their younger 
sisters. 8 At a feast of the Winnebago "all the young girls near- 
ing the age of puberty will be absent, but the old women, who 
have passed their climacteric, sit right next to the men, because 
they are considered the same as men as they have no menstrual 
flow any more." 4 

It is a common idea that eating and drinking are acts attended 
with special peril, for what is consumed might be blasted by the 
evil glance of a stranger or an enemy, or some malicious spirit 
might enter one's body along with the food and drink. There is 
also the widespread fear that the remnants of a person's food may 
be used magically to injure him. For these and similar reasons 
people will avoid eating in a strange village or in public ; sometimes 
they take their meals behind closed doors or in strict seclusion. 
Still more usual is the custom of men and women eating apart, 

110 



SEPARATION OF THE SEXES 111 

the former almost always before the latter. This sexual separation 
in eating may sometimes be simply an outcome of the inferior 
status of the female sex; the men satisfy their hunger first and 
with the best of the food. In other cases, the custom has been 
dictated by dread of woman's uncleanness. The custom, whatever 
its origin, is widespread. 5 

Among some of the Queensland aborigines men, boys, and 
girls (up to four or five years of age) eat together; all the other 
women, without distinction of any sort, eat apart. 6 It was for- 
merly the rule among the Torres Straits Islanders for the father 
and his sons to take their meals before the mother and her daugh- 
ters. This rule did not prevail in the Murray Islands, but even 
there the husband reserved to himself the right of choosing certain 
tidbits. 7 On the island of Meli, one of the New Hebrides, the men 
prepare all their food in their own clubhouse, access to which is 
forbidden to women. Anything that a woman cooks is considered 
unclean for a man. 8 In New Caledonia husband and wife eat 
together, but otherwise the sexes keep apart at meals. 9 

Some Samoan chiefs of inferior rank permitted their wives 
to eat with them, but, generally speaking, women and children 
did not eat with men. 10 In the Marquesas Islands the rule pre- 
vailed that a wife must not eat in the same place as her husband 
or prepare her food at his fire. Those who violated the prohibition 
might be killed or severely chastised; sometimes, however, their 
punishment was left to the angered spirits, who made them ill. 11 

According to an early visitor to the Hawaiian Islands, the 
women were forbidden "when in their houses, to eat in company 
with men, and even to enter the eating-room during meals. The 
men, on the contrary, may enter the rooms in which women dine, 
but must not partake of anything." When in the fields or at sea, 
the two sexes ate together and used the same vessels, "the cala- 
bash excepted, in which each sex has its own dainty/' 12 In the 
Society Islands women never ate with the men. The fires at which 
the men's food was cooked, the baskets in which it was kept, and 
the house where the men ate all were "sacred" and prohibited to 
women under pain of death. "Hence the inferior food, both for 
wives, daughters, etc., was cooked at separate fires, deposited in 
distinct baskets, and eaten in lonely solitude by the females, in 
little huts erected for the purpose." 18 Among the Maori men 
would not eat with their wives nor would male children eat with 
their mothers, "lest their tapu or sanctity should kill them." 14 

Among the Bantu-speaking peoples of South Africa the men 



112 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

eat by themselves and are waited upon by their wives and chil- 
dren. The latter, as a rule, eat after the men have finished. 15 Men 
of the Warua tribe (Central Africa), who will not allow anyone 
to see them eating and drinking, are doubly careful that no 
woman's gaze shall fall upon them when doing so. 16 Among the 
Suk of Kenya Colony "women and men feed apart for fear that 
one of the former be menstruous. But even a barren woman may 
not eat with men. Nor can women and men drink out of the same 
calabash. Men may not even touch a woman's calabash, and the 
woman may only touch the men's for the purpose of cleansing 
when empty." 17 An Ovimbundu wife carries the food which she 
has cooked to the village council house, where the men meet each 
evening. Then she returns to her own home, to eat alone or with 
her young children. 18 Among the Kpelle of Liberia, while meal- 
times may coincide, meals are not taken together. The husband 
eats with his grown-up sons and his wife with the other children. 1 * 

For the American Indians there is abundant evidence that 
women did not eat with the men but separately and only after 
their husbands and male relatives had been satisfied. 20 

Contact between men and women is often avoided by arrange- 
ments for their separate living and sleeping quarters. The men's 
clubhouses, which are a common feature of primitive society 
throughout the world, further emphasize the separation of the 
sexes in daily life. Access to these resorts is ordinarily forbidden 
to women, sometimes under pain of death for disobedience. 21 

The division of occupations between the sexes, while in gen- 
eral determined by economic considerations and the special re- 
quirements of primitive life, has also been affected by notions 
of the uncleanness of women. Even when we are not expressly 
informed by our authorities that such is the case, we may surmise 
with much probability that these notions often account for the 
very common practice of carefully separating what is men's work 
from what is women's. 22 

In the Hawaiian Islands women might not engage in agricul- 
tural work or in fishing. Since the men did the cooking, not only 
for themselves but for the women also, there was little left for the 
latter to do but to make dress materials and mats. 28 In New Zea- 
land, on the other hand, the natural sanctity of a man was too 
great to permit him to engage in menial tasks. Consequently 
slaves and women who were not tapu did all the culinary work. 
Since it was also forbidden for men to carry burdens on their 
shoulders, because their backbones were so especially sacred, this 



SEPARATION OF THE SEXES 113 

duty likewise fell on the women, boys, and slaves. 24 Maori women 
did not have anything to do with carving, the building of houses, 
and the manufacture of canoes. Tattooing was always a mascu- 
line occupation. "Strong elements of tapu entered into the de- 
limitation of all these occupations." The same was true of the 
cultivation of the kumara (sweet potato), and in those districts 
where it was raised most extensively women were debarred from 
planting and harvesting it, "lest they should exert a destructive 
influence" on the crop. 25 

The Toda of southern India are a pastoral people, and their 
interests, both economic and religious, center about their buffaloes. 
The daily life of the men is largely devoted to the care of these 
animals and to labor in the dairies. The buffalo is a sacred animal ; 
the dairy itself is almost a temple; and the dairyman is only one 
remove from a priest. The idea of ceremonial purity runs through 
the whole of the Toda dairy rites, so much so that a man who 
has acquired any specific uncleanness cannot hold office in the 
dairy, tend the sacred buffaloes, or even approach the members 
of the higher grades of the dairyman-priesthood. As for women, 
they take no part in the dairy ritual nor in the operations of milk- 
ing and churning, and they are regularly excluded from the dairies 
themselves. They may approach a dairy only at appointed times 
when they receive buttermilk given out by the dairyman, and then 
they must keep to a particular path. They must also avoid the 
paths by which the buffaloes travel when leaving or approaching 
a village. One of the dairymen is so sacred that when he goes 
to a dwelling care is taken to remove from it the emblems of 
womanhood pounder, sieve, and broom though the women 
themselves remain. During certain dairy ceremonies the women 
must leave the village altogether. 26 

Among the Bantu-speaking tribes of South Africa "the care 
of the cattle and dairy is the highest post of honour amongst them, 
and this is always allotted to the men. They milk the cows ; herd 
the oxen; and keep the kraals, or cattle yards. The women are 
never (under the pain of heavy chastisement) permitted to touch 
a beast: even the young calves and heifers are tended by the lads 
or boys, and should a woman or girl be found in or near the cattle, 
she is severely beaten. A curious custom prevails amongst them 
in connection with this usage. If a woman has necessity to enter 
a cattle kraal, she is obliged, if married, to bring her husband 
with her, or nearest male relative, if not, to the gate of the en- 
closure. He then lays his assegai on the ground, the point being 



114 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

inside the entrance, and the woman walks in on the handle of the 
weapon. This is considered as a passport of entrance, and saves 
her from punishment; but, even in this case, strict inquiry is 
made as to the necessity for such an entrance, nor are the men 
very willing to grant, too frequently, such an indulgence to 
them." 27 Bechuana men, besides tending the herds, must do all 
the heavy work of plowing, because plows cannot be used except 
with oxen to draw them. 28 Amaxosa women are not supposed to 
go into the cattle kraal, for they would defile it and make the bones 
of the cattle weak. Nowadays "enlightened" women do so, in 
order to get cow dung, but if they are menstruating they remain 
outside. 29 The Barotse think that a woman who entered a cattle 
kraal would have an immediate and untimely menstrual dis- 
charge. 80 

The Kgatla of the Bechuanaland Protectorate now allow 
women, when ritually clean, to herd and milk the cattle. Under 
certain circumstances, however, the old taboo is still enforced. 
Women who are still newcomers from the village, whose bodies 
are "hot" with the scent of the village and of sexual life, will cause 
the cattle to abort; such people must wait for a week or so before 
they help with the herding and milking. Menstruating girls and 
girls who live loosely are not allowed to drink milk. Their bodies 
are said to be "dirty," and by drinking the milk they will injure 
the cows from which it comes. Pregnant women must not walk 
through a flock of goats or sheep, for they would cause the 
animals to sicken or to abort, while they themselves would have 
miscarriages. While women may ordinarily enter a kraal in order 
to gather the dung, which is used as fuel and for smearing the 
floor of the hut, they may not do so after the kraal has been 
"doctored" and the animals are inside it; to do so would nullify 
the effects of the doctoring. The Kgatla also forbid husband and 
wife to cohabit near the kraal. Should this prohibition be disre- 
garded, the cattle would make a hole in the fence and run away ; 
one of the animals would never return. 81 

Among the Banyoro of Central Africa the milking of cows 
falls entirely to men "women are strictly forbidden to touch a 
cow's udder." 82 The Baganda forbid girls and women to herd 
the cows or milk them. 88 The Dinka of the White Nile think it 
very desirable for their cows to be milked by boys and girls who 
have not reached puberty. Women must never do the milking 
and men, even old men incapable of sexual relations, ought not 
to do so except in case of necessity. 84 Many other cattle-breeding 



SEPARATION OF THE SEXES 115 

tribes of Africa similarly debar women from contact with their 
herds, but the custom is not universal. Thus, among the Masai 
milking is done by the women; among the Suk the women are 
assisted in this task by children (under puberty) and by boys who 
have reached puberty but have not yet been circumcised. 35 

In Morocco the general jincleanness of women subjects them 
to many taboos. They may not enter oh tfieThresTinTg floor or go 
into the granary lest they spoil the baraka (virtue) of the grain. 
In one place it is said that if an unmarried woman goes into a 
subterranean granary, she will never marry; that a married 
woman who does so will be childless ; and that a pregnant woman 
will have a miscarriage. Some tribes do not allow women to 
work in a vegetable garden or gather vegetables from it. Women 
are also supposed to be injurious to bees ; consequently the honey 
is always gathered by men. There are people who do not allow 
a woman to ride on their beasts of burden, for fear of injury to 
the animal. In some places she is forbidden to enter a shop, even 
though she be the shopkeeper's wife; if she did so the shop would 
lose its baraka and there would no sale. 36 

Fear of women's uncleanness and, in particular, of their men- 
strual flow, doubtless accounts for certain other restrictions often 
imposed upon them. Among some Queensland tribes "a woman 
must not on any account step over anything belonging to a man." 
Should she step over his fishing line, for example, he would throw 
it away. 37 The natives of Duke of York Island do not allow 
a woman to go into a new canoe, for if she did no shark would 
ever be caught by the fishermen who used it. 38 In Mala, one of 
the Solomon Islands, ordinary fishing nets are avoided by women 
lest their touch should cause the nets to become ceremonially de- 
filed and fail to catch fish. The turtle net enjoys a particular 
sanctity, and while being made may not be seen by women. 39 No 
New Caledonian woman is allowed to travel in a canoe before it 
has been taken on a long voyage. 40 

In Tikopia bonito fishing is exclusively a masculine pursuit, 
for the presence of a woman in a canoe at this time is taboo.* 1 
Marquesan women might not enter canoes and consequently could 
neither engage in fishing nor travel from island to island. 42 They 
were also forbidden to wear red and dark clothes, to engage in 
the games of stilt-walking and javelin-throwing, or to blow conch 
shells. 43 

In the Hawaiian Islands canoes were taboo to women except 
under exceptional circumstances when women had to be carried 



116 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

as passengers. The canoe was associated in the native mind with 
fishing (men's work), with the transportation of food and goods 
(men's work), and with the disposal of the skeletal remains (of 
men only) after death. 44 Maori women were not allowed to go 
near the site chosen for a house or where it was in process of erec- 
tion. The men working on it were also tapu to women. A viola- 
tion of these rules meant that the house could never be completed. 45 

Among the Sema Naga of Assam it is strictlyjfgwfjo^op taboo, 
for men to put on or use in any way a woman's petticoat ; to do 
so would destroy all chance of success in war or hunting. It is 
also genna to beat a house with a petticoat, an action which has 
the same disastrous outcome for the inmates. "One case the 
writer knew of in which a chief had a somewhat serious family 
quarrel because his wife in a passion took her petticoat and beat 
his gun with it, and exposed her nakedness to the gun. He has 
never been able to hit anything with that gun since a fact." 46 

A rule of general observance among the Bantu-speaking peoples 
of South Africa forbids a woman from sitting in certain parts of 
the hut, for these are appropriated to the men. However, old 
women, who are well past childbearing and who are often called 
men, may do so; "there is no longer any need to restrict them." 47 
Another rule found among these same peoples requires a husband, 
in bed with his wife, not to touch her with his right hand ; "if he did 
so, he would have no strength in war, and would surely be slain." 48 
Konde women must not touch or go near the hunting weapons, 
which are kept in the roof of the house. 49 Among the Suk a woman 
is not allowed to see a smith at work. Should she do so, "his 
weapon would become heavy in his hand and he would go mad 
and die." 50 Among the Barea man and wife seldom share the same 
bed because, as the natives explain, the wife's breath might make 
her husband weak. 51 Yoruba women might not ply a canoe on 
the lagoon. The penalty for doing so was death. 52 

Chippewa women never go before a man. 58 Among the 
Thompson Indians of British Columbia should a woman, espe- 
cially one who was menstruating, "cross in front of a gun, the 
latter was useless for war or for the chase. The owner of the gun 
washed it at once in 'medicine/ or struck the woman with it once 
on each principal part of the body, thereby breaking the spell." 
Other weapons of the chase or of war, if exposed to the same del- 
eterious influence, were treated in a similar fashion. 54 A Lapp 
woman observed many taboos. The rear door by which game was 
taken into the hut might not be used by her, nor might she touch 



SEPARATION OF THE SEXES 117 

any game animal that had been caught. A menstruating woman 
was not allowed to step over her husband's feet or gun, or to go 
where fishermen usually exposed their catch, or to milk cows. 65 
A Samoyed woman may not tread in any part of the hut except 
her own corner, nor may she pass in front of the fire for fear of 
profaning it. When traveling, she does not follow in the track 
of the men or the reindeer, but must walk at one side. 56 

Food restrictions observed by men are occasionally more nu- 
merous or more burdensome than those imposed upon women. As 
a rule, however, it is the women who must abstain from certain 
articles of food, especially delicacies. No doubt masculine selfish- 
ness largely accounts for their dietary disabilities, but these are 
sometimes to be explained by fear of feminine uncleanness. As 
we have seen, pregnant, puerperant, and menstruating women 
may be required to avoid certain foods of general consumption, 
such as fish and game, because eating them would spoil the luck 
of the fisher or hunter ; the impurity of the women would be trans- 
mitted in some way, mysterious to us but obvious to the savage, 
to the animals forming the chief source of his food supply. The 
ill effects of certain foods on the female sex, considered as the 
weaker vessel, are also sometimes alleged to be the reason for 
forbidding them to women. The prohibitions, however they orig- 
inate, often take the form of taboos. 

In the Encounter Bay tribe of South Australia old men ap- 
propriated to themselves the roe of fishes; if women, young men, 
or children ate of that dainty they were believed to grow prema- 
turely old. 67 Some Queensland aborigines in the neighborhood of 
Cape York did not allow women to eat many kinds of fish, includ- 
ing some of the best, "on the pretence of their causing disease in 
women, although not injurious to the men." 58 In North Queens- 
land, though a food taboo is generally declared by men, it can 
sometimes be declared by women, but then only in the interest of 
the male sex. 59 Among the natives of Arnhem Land the more 
savory kinds of food are often reserved for men, particularly for 
the older men. 60 

Concerning some of the tribes of what was formerly German 
New Guinea we are told that the "menu" is so arranged that the 
good things, the dainties, are reserved for the men. 61 In New 
Britain women are not allowed to eat pork, which is greatly 
esteemed ; "the men are very angry when women eat it. 1 ' 62 Some 
articles of food, "mostly dainties," including turtle, dugong, and 
human flesh, were tabooed to New Caledonian women. 88 



118 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

In the Society Islands women might not eat hogs, fowls, sev- 
eral kinds of fish, coconuts, and plantains. 64 In the Marquesas 
Islands the foods prohibited to them included the chicken at all 
times, the pig at certain times, and the octopus in some places, 
together with bananas, coconuts, and coconut milk. 65 Turtles and 
certain kinds of fish were tabooed to commoners, both men and 
women, and were reserved as dainties for chiefs and priests. 66 
In New Zealand the women seem to have eaten whatever the men 
ate, with the exception of human flesh. 67 Everywhere in Poly- 
nesia that the kava drink was used women were strictly forbid- 
den to partake of it, and in certain island groups it was reserved 
for chiefs alone. 68 In all the Naga tribes women are subjected to 
a much stricter series of food taboos than are men. 69 The Am- 
axosa believe that women who eat eggs become incontinent and 
also incapable of conception. 70 The Temba and Fingo think that 
eggs contain powerful aphrodisiac qualities and when eaten by 
women will drive them to seek men from other kraals. A rec- 
ognized sexual advance by a woman is to say, "I shall cook eggs 
for you/' 71 

The Bahima of Uganda allow men to eat beef and the meat 
of certain antelopes and buffalo, but women are generally re- 
stricted to beef. 72 The flesh of goats and sheep, fowls and eggs, 
and milk are tabooed to women of the Lugwari tribe of Uganda. 
It is believed that those who do not comply with the restrictions 
will not bear children. 78 

In former days the Ovimbundu of Angola did not allow their 
women to eat eggs. 74 The Bayaka, a Bantu-speaking tribe of the 
Belgian Congo, forbid both fowls and eggs to women ; if a woman 
eats an egg she is supposed to become mad, tear off her clothes, 
and run away into the bush. The men eat "almost any flesh (ex- 
cept that of dogs)." 75 The Bangongo, a subtribe of the Bushongo, 
prohibit women from eating domestic animals and even those 
birds which are most often hunted. Among wild animals the 
leopard and crocodile are also forbidden to women, these being 
reserved to the old men. 76 Among the Coroado of Brazil the 
women, "to the evident advantage of their selfish law-giving 
halves, are prohibited from the eating of many animals/ 177 

The Polar Eskimo allow women to eat certain animals and 
certain parts of animals only after having given birth to five chil- 
dren. The forbidden articles of diet include young seals, nar- 
whals, all small animals such as hares and ptarmigans, the entrails, 
heart, lungs, and liver of all animals, and eggs. 78 



SEPARATION OF THE SEXES 119 

Religious disabilities often rest on women, who must not defile 
sacred things by coming into contact with them. Sometimes the 
idea appears that the women themselves would be injured by such 
contact, for, as compared with the men, they have little power of 
resistance against spiritual influences which may be harmful as 
well as helpful, which may kill as well as cure. 78 

In Australia it is a rule without exception that women may not 
witness the solemn ceremonies initiating lads into manhood. Re- 
ferring particularly to the Murngin of Arnhem Land, Northern 
Territory, a competent authority declares that with them a woman 
makes little "sacred progress" during her lifetime because she 
has nothing to do with the secret rites, symbols, and totemic myths 
of the tribe. All initiated men, as the result of their initiation, 
possess a sacredness which never belongs to women. 80 

Among the Keraki of southwestern New Guinea there are no 
female practitioners of the accredited branches of magic such as 
rain-making, divination, doctoring, and sorcery. Women have 
only an insignificant part in public religious ceremonies and no 
part at all in the esoteric rites. Nor have they any knowledge of 
the sacred myths of the tribe. 81 In the Melanesian Islands women 
and children are generally excluded from religious rites. 82 Fijian 
women might not enter any temple. 88 

In Tikopia sex distinctions in religion are carefully preserved. 
Little girls are constantly warned to keep away from the temples 
and from ritual performances debarred to older women. As they 
grow up, the admonitions of parents and relatives emphasize still 
more strongly the exclusion of women from much of the religious 
life of the community. However, it is to be noticed that there are 
certain ceremonials in which only women take part, so that they 
have some place, albeit a minor one, in Tikopia religion. 84 In 
the Marquesas Islands any woman who entered the hula<-hula 
ground set apart for religious exercises, or even so much as pressed 
with her feet the shadows cast by the trees within it, suffered 
death. 85 In the Hapai group of the Tonga Islands women were 
never allowed to enter the temples and sacred precincts, "and 
even the presence of pigs in the enclosure was not considered so 
dreadful a desecration as that of women." 88 Tahitian women were 
excluded from all religious festivals. 87 Hawaiian women took no 
part in public worship, as it was supposed that their touch would 
"pollute" anything offered to the gods in sacrifice. 88 In the Gilbert 
Islands and the Marshall Islands women are excluded from the 
more important festivals of the inhabitants. 89 



120 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Among the Ainu of Japan, though a woman may prepare a 
divine offering, she may not present it. "Accordingly, women 
are never allowed to pray, or to take any part in any religious 
exercise/' 90 Among the Toda women do not participate in the 
dairy ritual ; they are also debarred from such occupations as di- 
vining and the practice of sorcery. 91 The Santal of Bengal do not 
allow women to take part in a sacrifice except when it is a purely 
domestic performance honoring the ancestors and family gods. 
Even in this case they may not serve in any way unless there are 
no men at hand to help the officiating priest. When a sacrifice is 
made at a holy grove or elsewhere outside the house, not only 
are women debarred from attendance at the rite but they are also 
forbidden to eat the flesh of the sacrificed animal. What the men 
do not eat of it is burned. Nor may a woman climb trees in a 
holy grove, for evil spirits would punish such a desecration with 
sickness and death. 92 

Among the Wanguru of Tanganyika Territory "as a rule" the 
men prepare and administer the various medicines, interpret 
omens, and perform religious ceremonies. 93 The Galla forbid 
women from approaching the sacred tree where worship is cele- 
brated. 94 An Ibo wife, it is said, lives in fear of her husband's 
gods ; she may not serve them or handle their images. 95 

Women have a very subordinate role in the religious feasts 
and ceremonies of the South American Indians, and in certain 
dances they are not allowed to take part at all. "The mask-dances, 
for instance, are generally considered to be so dangerous for 
women as also for children that by merely looking at the masks 
they might die on the spot. Likewise, they are strictly forbidden 
to see some other religious instruments, such as the flutes and 
bull-roarers used by many Brazilian tribes. They may never enter 
the 'men-houses' or 'flute-houses' where the religious instruments 
are kept and the secret ceremonies are performed; any infringe- 
ment of these rules would prove fatal to them." 98 

Mexican women burned incense before the idols, tended the 
sacred fire, swept the temple area, prepared the daily offerings of 
food, and presented these to the gods, "but they were entirely ex- 
cluded from the office of sacrificer and the higher dignities of the 
priesthood." 97 By the Pima Indians of Arizona myths are not usu- 
ally told in the presence of the women, who, consequently, know 
only imperfect fragments of them. 98 The Takelma Indians of 
southwestern Oregon do not permit women to engage in the cere- 
monies performed on the first appearance in spring of salmon and 



SEPARATION OF THE SEXES 121 

acorns." Nootka women are never invited to the great feasts 
which take place in winter. 100 

The Aleuts jealously guard their religious ceremonies from 
women, "the greatest disaster" being threatened in case of an 
infraction of the rule. For instance, a whale hunter who had 
broken the taboo would be seized with a violent nose-bleeding and 
swelling of his entire body, often followed by insanity or death. 
The sea-otter hunter would meet with no success, even though 
surrounded by sea otters. He could not kill one of them. The 
animals would laugh in his face. 101 Lapp women were excluded 
from sacred localities because of the Belief in their uncleanness at 
certain times ; they were also under disabilities as to touching a 
drum or making an offering. 102 Similarly, among the Samoyeds 
women had no part in the cult of the gods. 103 

The fear of women at special periods of their reproductive life 
or of women at all times has thus brought about and maintained 
a far stricter separation of the sexes than would naturally result 
from their differing capacities, attitudes, and interests and from 
their unlike responsibilities in the food quest and the perpetuation 
of the species. Besides emphasizing sex differentiation and in- 
tensifying sex antagonism, this fear has limited the field of wom- 
en's activity, restricted their opportunities, and laid upon them 
many onerous and unnecessary restrictions. In so far as such an 
attitude prevails, it must affect adversely the status of women in 
primitive society. Ideas which, from our more enlightened point 
of view, can only be described as superstitions, have thus combined 
with male selfishness to put a handicap on women over and above 
that imposed by their physical inferiority to men. 

NOTES TO CHAPTER III 

1 G. Roheim, "Women and Their Life in Central Australia," Journal of the 
Royal Anthropological Institute, LXIII (1933), 258. 

2 Henry Callaway, The Religious System of the Amasulu (London, 1870), 
p. 440, note 23. 

8 Rafael Karsten, The Civilisation of the South American Indians (London, 
1926), p. 15, note 1. 

4 Paul Radin, in Thirty-seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American 
Ethnology, p. 137, quoting an Indian informant. The same belief is found among 
the Fox Indians (T. Michelson, in Fortieth Annual Report of the Bureau of 
American Ethnology, p. 231). 

6 See Ernest Crawley, "Taboos of Commensality," Folk-Lore, VI (1895), 
130-44; idem, The Mystic Rose (London, 1902), pp. 148-78. 

8 W. E. Roth, North Queensland Ethnography Bulletin, No. 3, p. 7. 



122 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

7 A. C. Haddon, in Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to 
Torres Straits, IV, 130. 

Arthur Baessler, Siidsee-Bilder (Berlin, 1895), p. 203. 
J. J. Atkinson, in Folk-Lore, XIV (1903), 254. 

10 J. B. Stair, Old Samoa (London, 1897), p. 122. Another authority de- 
clares, however, that men, women, and children all ate together at the evening 
meal (George Turner, Samoa [London, 1884], p. 115). 

11 Charles Gavel, Les Marquisiens (Paris, 1885), p. 66. 

"Urey Lisiansky, A Voyage Round the World (London, 1814), p. 127. 
Archibald Campbell states, however, that when at sea men and women ate to- 
gether, but not out of the same dish (A Voyage Round the World [3d ed., New 
York, 1819], p. 133). 

" William Ellis, Polynesian Researches (2d ed., London, 1831), I, 129. 

i* Richard Taylor, Te Ika A Maui (2d ed., London, 1870), p. 168. This 
seems to be perhaps a unique case of the transmission of masculine properties to 
women and not vice versa. In New Zealand every superior person or gentleman 
(rangatird) was more or less taboo. Judge Maning calls this the ordinary per- 
sonal tapu, or tapu rangatira t to distinguish it from the more dangerous kinds 
of tapu connected with religious ceremonies, war customs, and the handling of 
the dead. The personal tapu, "though latent in young folks of rangatira rank, 
was not supposed to develop itself fully until they had arrived at mature age and 
set up house on their own account. The lads and boys 'knocked about* amongst 
the slaves and lower orders, carried fuel or provisions on their backs, and did 
all those duties which this personal tapu prevented the elders from doing, and 
which restraint was sometimes very troublesome and inconvenient" (Old New 
Zealand, by a Pakeka Maori [London, 1884], p, 97). 

15 James Macdonald, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XIX 
(1890), 279. 

16 V. L. Cameron, Across Africa (London, 1877), II, 71. 

17 M. W. H. Beech, The Suk (Oxford, 1911), p. 11. 

18 W. D. Hambly, The Ovimbundu of Angola (Chicago, 1934), p. 148. 
10 Diedrich Westermann, Die Kpelle (Gottingen and Leipzig, 1921), p. 67. 

20 Sir R. Schomburgh, in Journal of the Ethnological Society, I (1848), 
270 f. (Guiana Indians); Nicolas de la Rosa, in American Anthropologist (n s 
1901), III, 617, 638 f. (Indians of Colombia) ; A. de Herrera, The General His- 
tory of the Vast Continent and Islands of America (London, 1725-1726), IV, 
175 (Indians of Yucatan) ; B. de Sahagun, A History of Ancient Mexico (Nash- 
ville, Tenn., 1932), I, 244 (Aztecs); James Adair, History of the American 
Indians (London, 1775), p. 140 (Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and other tribes) ; 
L. H. Morgan, "Houses and House-Life of the American Aborigines," Contri- 
butions to North American Ethnology, IV, 99 f. (Iroquois) ; H. R. Schoolcraft, 
Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the 
American Frontiers (Philadelphia, 1851), p. 603 (Chippewa) ; George Catlin, 
Illustrations of the Manners, Customs and Condition of the North American 
Indians (London, 1876), I, 123 (Mandan) ; Sir John Richardson, Arctic Search- 
ing Expedition (London, 1851), I, 383 (Kutchin). 

21 See H. Schurtz, Altersklassen und Mdnnerbiinde (Berlin, 1902), espe- 
cially pp. 202-13 ; H. Webster, Primitive Secret Societies (2d ed., New York 
1932), pp. 1-19; Robert Briffault, The Mothers (New York, 1927), I, 508-13. ' 

22 Instances are known they seem to be rare of taboos forbidding men 
from having anything to do with women's work, such as the manufacture of pots. 



SEPARATION OF THE SEXES 123 

Among the Sema and Chang of Assam a man may not come near a woman so 
engaged ; otherwise, the pots would crack in the firing (J. H. Hutton, The An- 
garni Nagas [London, 1921], p. 64, note 1). Similarly among the Nandi of 
Kenya no man may approach the place where the women are making pots or 
watch the women at work. A thief who took a pot would die the next time the 
owner began heating her wares (A. C. Hollis, The Nandi [Oxford, 1909], pp. 
35 f.). The Suk (neighbors of the Nandi) believe that if a man should look at 
an unfinished pot this would be broken within a month, and that death within a 
year would be the fate of a man who stepped over a pot (Beech, op. cit., p. 17). 
As Dr. Briffault has shown, pot-making is almost everywhere in the hands of 
women and is often attended with all manner of precautions (The Mothers. I, 
466 ff.). 

28 Adolf Bastian, Inselgruppen in Oceanien (Berlin, 1883), p. 248. 

24 J. M. Brown, Maori and Polynesian, Their History and Culture (London, 
1907), p. 68; Old New Zealand, by a Pakeka Maori, pp. 101 f.; Edward Short- 
land, The Southern Districts of New Zealand (London, 1851), p. 296. Boys 
could shoulder burdens because their personal tapu was not supposed to be fully 
developed. Slaves could do so safely because, having been captured in war and 
taken away to another tribe, they ceased to be under the protection of any 
spirits (atua). The atua of their own tribe did not care to follow them into a 
hostile tribe and amid hostile spirits. "They are therefore independent of the 
law of tapu, as far as they are individually concerned a fortunate circumstance 
for the comfort of the female portion of the community ; for it is owing to this 
belief that male slaves are able to assist them in a variety of menial offices con- 
nected with carrying and cooking food" (Edward Shortland, Traditions and 
Superstitions of the New Zealanders [2d ed., London, 1856], pp. 82 f.). A 
Maori slave who served faithfully and industriously was sure to become a per- 
son of some consequence in his new community. On the other hand, if by any 
chance he returned to his old tribe he could never recover his former social 
position there. As a slave, he lost the natural sanctity which every free-born 
man possessed, and it could not be restored to him by the tribesmen without 
their incurring the anger of the spirits who had punished the man by allowing 
him to be captured and enslaved. See W. Colenso, in Transactions and Proceed- 
ings of the New Zealand Institute, 1868, I, 22 (separate pagination). 

25 Raymond Firth, Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori (Lon- 
don, 1929), pp. 196 f. 

28 W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas (London, 1906), pp. 27 f., 72 f., 245 f., 566 f. 
According to Captain H. Harkness the boys of a family freely enter the dairy 
and do much of the work there (Description of a Singular Aboriginal Race. 
Inhabiting the Summit of the Neilgherry Hills [London, 1832], p. 24). The ex- 
ception in favor of boys, presumably under puberty, is doubtless due to their 
sexual immaturity. 

27 Francis Fleming, Southern Africa (London, 1856), pp. 214 f. 

28 E. Holub, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, X (1881), 11; 
H. E. Rouquette, ibid., XVI (1887), 134. According to John Campbell, while 
cows are always milked by men, goats are always milked by women (Travels 
in South Africa .... Second Journey [London, 1822], II, 213). 

29 J. H. Soga, The Ama-Xosa: Life and Customs (Lovedale, South Africa, 
[1931]), p. 300. The entrance to the cattle kraal is also forbidden to women, but 
this taboo is less imperative for old women who are no longer menstruating 
(p. 354). See further Gustav Fritsch, Die Eingeborenen Sud-Afrika's (Breslau, 
1872), p. 115. 

80 D. W. Stirke, Barotseland (London [1922]), p. 72. 



124 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

81 1. Schapera, in American Anthropologist (n.s., 1934), XXXVI, 578 f. 
82 R. W. Felkin, in Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, XIX, 
148. 

88 John Roscoe, The Baganda (London, 1911), p. 416. 

84 C. G. Seligman, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLIII 
(1913), 656. 

8 A. C. Hollis, The Masai (Oxford, 1905), p. 290; Beech, The Suk, p. 9. 
The Namaqua, a Hottentot tribe, so far from fearing the deleterious influence 
of women, take pains to lead a girl, when menstruating for the first time, round 
the village. She touches all the rams in the folds and the milk vessels in the 
houses (Sir J. E. Alexander, Expedition of Discovery into the Interior of Afrfca 
[London, 1838], 1, 169). 

36 Edward Westermarck, Marriage Ceremonies in Morocco (London, 1914), 
pp. 339 ff . 

87 A. W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (London, 
1904), p. 402. In the Turrbal or Turribul tribe a woman who stepped over a 
man would be instantly killed (Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queens- 
land [Brisbane, 1904], p. 14). The natives of New Caledonia think that a canoe 
would be endangered did a woman step over the cable (Lambert, Moeurs et 
superstitions des Neo-Caledoniens [Noumea, 1900], p. 192). The Rengma Naga 
forbid a woman to step over a hunting dog as it lies asleep on the ground (J. P. 
Mills, The Rengma Nagas [London, 1937], p. 94). Malagasy porters believe 
that if a woman should stride over their poles the skin of the bearers' shoulders 
would certainly peel off the next time they took up their loads (James Sibree, 
The Great African Island [London, 1880], p. 288). In South Africa a woman 
must not step over her husband's stick; should she do so, he could not hit any- 
one with it in a village brawl. If she steps over his assegai it will never kill or 
even strike an enemy, and it is at once discarded and given to the boys to play 
and practice with (James Macdonald, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 
XX [1891], 130). The Baganda believe that should a woman step over a man's 
weapons they will not aim straight and will not kill unless they have been first 
purified (John Roscoe, ibid., XXXII [1902], 59). Among the Bakene, when a 
man is making a new line or net, his father's wives must keep away from him, 
lest they should accidentally step over the materials of his work. No net over 
which a woman has stepped would retain fish ; they would merely pass through 
its meshes. This misfortune can be avoided, however, if the net-maker provides 
an offering of food to the spirit of the net (John Roscoe, The Northern Bantu 
[Cambridge, 1915], p. 155). A Banyoro potter is careful to place his pots when 
drying where they will not be stepped over by a woman ; did this happen, the 
pots would break when being baked (ibid. t p. 79). By the Chippewa articles 
which have been stepped over by a woman "are considered unclean and are 
condemned by the men" (Schoolcraft, Personal Memoirs, p. 603). Among the 
Labrador Eskimo a woman during her catamenial period must never step over 
a kayak; if she did so, "the evil influence believed to emanate from her condi- 
tion would cause the game to avoid the kayak." See E. W. Hawkes, The Labra- 
dor Eskimo (Geological Survey Memoir, No. 91) (Ottawa, 1916), p. 134. Every- 
thing which a Samoyed woman steps over becomes unclean and requires purifica- 
tion (P. von Stenin, in Globus f LX [1891], 173). For additional illustrations of 
the widespread reluctance to step over persons and things see Sir J. G. Frazer, 
Taboo and the Perils of the Soul (The Golden Bough, 3d ed., Part II) (London, 
1911), pp. 423 ff. 

8 * George Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians (London, 1910), p. 241. 

89 W. G. Ivens, The Island Builders of the Pacific (London, 1931), p. 117. 



SEPARATION OF THE SEXES 125 

At Mala and Ulawa going under trees up which a woman has climbed, lying 
on mats over which women have stepped, or passing in any way under women 
are acts that involve ceremonial defilement for men (idem, Melanesians of the 
South-East Solomon Islands [London, 1927], pp. 251 f.). 

40 Lambert, op. cit tf p. 192. The men will not touch anything upon which 
women have been sitting or lying. Whalers on a cruise went without food sooner 
than touch some rice in the hold of their boat where women had been resting 
(J. J. Atkinson, in Folk-Lore, XIV [1903], 255). 

41 Raymond Firth, We, the Tikopia (London, 1936), p. 471. 

42 Herman Melville, Typee (new ed., Boston, 1892), pp. 17, 192 ff., 328. Cf. 
C. S. Stewart, A Visit to the South Seas (New York, 1831), I, 240. 

48 E. S. C. Handy, "The Native Culture in the Marquesas," Bernice P. 
Bishop Museum Bulletin, No. 9, p. 37. According to Simeon Delmas, only a 
"husband might touch his wife's clothes." If another man touched them or the 
materials for making them he would become leprous (La religion ou le paga- 
nisme des Marquisiens [Paris, 1927], p. 66). "Tapu," wrote Robert Louis Ste- 
venson of the Marquesans, "encircled women upon all hands. Many things were 
forbidden to men; to women one may say that few were permitted. They must 
not sit on the paepae (dwelling platform) ; they must not go up to it by the stair ; 
they must not cat pork ; they must not approach a boat ; they must not cook at 
a fire which any male has kindled It will be noticed that these prohibi- 
tions tend, most of them, to an increased reserve between the sexes. Regard for 
female chastity is the usual excuse for these disabilities that men delight to lay 
upon their wives and mothers. Here the regard is absent ; and behold the women 
still bound hand and foot with meaningless proprieties!" (In the South Seas, 
Part I. chap. vi). 

44 E. S. C. Handy, "Dreaming in Relation to Spirit Kindred and Sickness 
in Hawaii," in Essays in Anthropology Presented to A. L. Kroeber (Berkeley, 
1936), p. 127. 

46 The Old Time Maori, by Makereti (London. 1938), p. 294. Cf. T. E. 
Donne, The Maori Past and Present (London, 1927), pp. 72 f. "One day," 
writes Mr. Donne, "1 visited a tribe that was engaged in the construction of a 
large and carved meeting-house (ivhare ivhakairo). One man only was at work 
inside the building, and he was engaged in carving an important slab for the 
front of the house. This man had only a slight knowledge of English .... As 
I watched the carver deftly using his mallet and chisel in transforming a huge 
log of totara timber into a work of art on conventional Maori lines, I saw a 
middle-aged woman approaching the house with the apparent intention of enter- 
ing it. 1 therefore said, 'Here comes a white woman.' The carver looked up, 
realized her intention, dropped his carving implements, jumped to his feet and 
rushed to the pae pac (threshold) just as the stranger raised a foot to step over 
it. When she was in this unbalanced position the Maori reached her and placing 
his hands on her chest he gave her a vigorous push which was almost a blow; 
she disappeared backwards down an embankment, tumbling head over heels 
more quickly than she had done anything else in her life. The Maori stood 
rigid, with livid face and a wild light in his eye. He had avoided the pollution 
of the house by fractions of a second and only those who know the Maori mind 
can realize the trend of his frightened thoughts at that moment .... I acted 
as peacemaker, explained the position, and informed her that in event of her 
having crossed the threshold the house would have become useless and the 
Maoris would have had to destroy it." 

46 J. H. Hutton, The Sema Nagas (London, 1921), p. 18. 

47 Dudley Kidd, The Essential Kafir (2d ed., London, 1925), p. 239. 



126 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

48 James Macdonald, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XX (1891), 
140. 

D. R. MacKenzie, The Spirit-ridden Konde (London, 1925), p. 133. 

oo Beech, The Suk, p. 18. 

81 Werner Munzinger, Ostafrikanische Studien (2d ed., Basel, 1883), p. 526. 

52 A. K. Ajisafe, The Laws and Customs of the Yoruba People, London, 
1924, p. 31. 

58 Schoolcraft, op. cit., p. 603. 

84 J. Teit, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, II, 327. 

65 R. H. Lowie, "Religious Ideas and Practices of the Eurasiatic and North 
American Areas," in Essays Presented to C. G. Seligman (London, 1934), p. 186, 
citing authorities. 

66 J. G. Georgi, Les nations Samoyedes et Mandshoures (Description de 
toutes les nations de V empire de Russie, Part III) (St. Petersburg, 1777), pp. 14 f. 

8T H. E. Meyer, in J. D. Woods (editor), The Native Tribes of South Aus- 
tralia (Adelaide, 1879), p. 187. 

68 John Macgillivray, Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake (Lon- 
don, 1852), II, 10. 

59 For instance, the women may be quarreling, perhaps over some inequality 
in sharing food, when one will suddenly pronounce it all taboo in favor of her 
husband, or of her son, or of any male belonging to the same exogamous group 
as herself. The food cannot then be eaten or touched by anyone else. See W. E. 
Roth, in North Queensland Ethnography Bulletin, No. 11 (Records of the Aus- 
tralian Museum, Vol. VII, No. 2, p. 76). 

60 Knut Dahl, In Savage Australia (London, 1926), p. 22. 

61 Bernhard Hagen, Unter den Papua's (Wiesbaden, 1899), p. 234. 

62 Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians, p. 126. 

68 J. J. Atkinson, in Folk-Lore, XIV (1903), 235. The prohibition of human 
flesh to women seems to have been usual, if not universal, in the South Seas. It 
was found at Tanna in the New Hebrides (W. Gray, in Report of the Fourth 
Meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, 1892, 
p. 663) ; in the Fiji Islands (Charles Wilkes, Narrative of the United States 
Exploring Expedition [Philadelphia, 1845], III, 97); and in the Marquesas 
Islands (Eyriaud des Vergnes, in Revue maritime et coloniale, LII [1877], 729). 
Among the Maori human flesh was kai tapu, or sacred food, and might be eaten 
only by warriors who were themselves tapu (Edward Shortland, The Southern 
Districts of New Zealand [London, 1851], p. 69). This prohibition is also found 
in West Africa. Among the Fan it is taboo (eki) for a woman to eat, or even 
to prepare for eating, the flesh of slain warriors (L. Martrou, in Anthropos, I 
[1906], 752). Among the Baya tribes the men still eat human flesh with great 
gusto, but anthropophagy has always been forbidden to women. The Baya think 
that men could not eat the flesh of a fellow villager without being poisoned ; only 
slain enemies may be safely consumed. Women, not being warriors, would be 
obliged to feast on their own people and wholesale poisonings would be the 
outcome. Hence the taboo laid upon them (A. Poupon, in L'Anthropologie, 
XXVI [1915], 105). In some parts of the Ibo territory women were not allowed 
to partake of human flesh; in other parts men and women shared alike (G. T. 
Basden, Niger Ibos [London, 1938], p. 127). 

64 Ellis, Polynesian Researches (26. ed.), I, 129. 

68 E. S. C. Handy, in Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, No. 9, p. 262. 

66 Louis Rollin, Les lies Marquises (Paris, 1929), p. 171. In Fotuna (one 
of the Home Islands) the king has the right to all the turtles caught of! the 



SEPARATION OF THE SEXES 127 

coast. They are kept near the royal residence. Before one can be eaten at a 
ceremonial feast it is necessary for the king to remove the prohibition of use. 
He puts on his insignia of rank and then with a small strip of bamboo solemnly 
strikes each morsel of turtle that is presented to him (S. P. Smith, in Journal 
of the Polynesian Society, I [1892], 41). 

67 Edward Tregear, The Maori Race (Wanganui, New Zealand, 1904), pp. 
85, 358. 

68 E. S. C. Handy, in Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, No. 34, p. 46. 
Similarly, in the New Hebrides, only men brew and drink kava (Baessler, Sud- 
see-Bilder, p. 203). At Tanna the mixing of the chewed root in water is done 
by a virgin boy. This is necessary because the hands of a married man are 
regarded as perpetually unclean. No woman may be present when kava is 
prepared and drunk (W. Gray and S. H. Ray, in Internationales Archiv fur 
Ethnographic, VII [1894], 231). No woman is allowed in the vicinity of the 
kava house at any time (C. B. Humphreys, The Southern New Hebrides [Cam- 
bridge, 1926], p. 83). 

60 Hutton, The Angami Nagas, p. 396. 

70 Soga, The Ama-Xosa: Life and Customs, p. 354. 

71 B. J. F. Laubscher, Sex, Custom and Psychopathology (London, 1937), 
p. 83. 

72 J. Roscoe, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XXXVII 
(1907), 101. 

73 R. E. McConnell, ibid., LV (1925), 453. 

74 Hambly, The Ovimbundu of Angola, p. 285. 

75 E. Torday and T. A. Joyce, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 
XXXVI (1906), 41, 51. 

76 lidcm, Notes ethnoyraphiqucs sur Ics peuplcs communtment appelcs 
Bakuba, ainsi sur les pcupladcs apparcntccs. Lcs Bushongo (Brussels, 1910), 
p. 119. 

77 Franz Keller, The Amason and Madeira Rivers (London, 1874), p. 84. 
78 Knud Rasmussen, The People of the Polar North (London, 1908), pp. 

121 f. 

79 See R. H. Lowie, Primitive Religion (New York, 1924), pp. 205-20. 

80 W. L. Warner, A Black Civilization (New York and London, 1937), 
pp. 6, 394. It is true, nevertheless, as Miss Kaberry points out, that among neigh- 
boring tribes in the Kimberly division of Western Australia the women have 
certain ceremonies to which the men have no access and that there are taboos in 
regard to women's business which the men must respect. In other words, women 
are not entirely excluded from contact with the supernatural world ; they are not 
completely identified with the realm of the profane. See Phyllis M. Kaberry, 
Aboriginal Woman, Sacred and Profane (London, 1939), pp. 187 ff. 

81 F. E. Williams, Papuans of the Trans-Fly (Oxford, 1936), p. 149. 

82 R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians (Oxford, 1891), p. 127. 

83 Thomas Williams, Fiji and the Fijians (3d ed., London, 1870), p. 145. 
** Firth, op. cit. t pp. 145, 471 f. 

85 Melville, Typee (new ed.), p. 133. 

86 John Williams, A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea 
Islands (London, 1838), p. 274, note. 

87 J. A. Moerenhout, Voyages aux lies du Grand Ocean (Paris, 1837), II, 70. 

88 Ellis, Polynesian Researches (2d ed.), I, 129. 



128 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

89 C. E. Meinicke, Die Inseln des Stillen Oceans (Leipzig, 1875-1876), II, 
338. 

90 B. D. Howard, Life with Trans-Siberian Savages (London, 1893), p. 195. 
It seems that among the Ainu the men are afraid of the prayers of the women. 
An old man said to Mr. Batchelor, "The women as well as the men used to be 
allowed to worship the gods and take part in all religious exercises; but our 
wise and honoured ancestors forbade them to do so, because it was thought they 
might use their prayers against the men, and more particularly against their 
husbands. We therefore think with our ancestors that it is wiser to keep them 
from praying" (John Batchelor, The Ainu and Their Folk-Lore [London, 1901], 
pp. 550 f.). 

91 J. H. Shortt, in Transactions of the Ethnological Society (n.s., 1869), VII, 
251 ; Rivers, The Todas t pp. 245 f., 566 f. 

92 P. O. Bodding, "On Taboo and Customs Connected Therewith amongst 
the Santals," Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. LXVII (1898), Part 
III, No. 1, pp. 15 f. 

9 'T. McVickar, in Primitive Man, VII (1934), 22. 

9 * W. C. Harris, The Highlands of Aethiopia (2d ed., London, 1844), III, 56. 

95 Basden, Niger Ibos, p. 208. 

96 Karsten, Civilization of the South American Indians, p. 14. 

9 *F. S. Clavigero, The History of Mexico (2d ed., London, 1807), I, 274 f. 

98 Frank Russell, in Twenty-sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ameri- 
can Ethnology, p. 206. 

99 E. Sapir, in Journal of American Folk-Lore, XX (1907), 33. 

100 G. M. Sproat, Scenes and Studies of Savage Life (London, 1868), p. 53. 

101 Ivan Petroff, Report on the Population, Industries, and Resources of 
Alaska (Washington, B.C., 1884), (Department of the Interior, Tenth Census, 
Vol. VIII), p. 155. According to W. H. Dall, however, women have dances 
from which men are excluded (Alaska and Its Resources [Boston, 1897], p. 389). 

102 Lowie, in Essays Presented to C. G. Seligman, p. 186. 
10 Georgi, Les nations Samoyedes et Mandshoures, p. 137. 



CHAPTER IV 
SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 



M.ANY primitive peoples display a lively fear of the consequences 
of sexual intercourse either for themselves or for others. Mystic 
dangerousness invests the organs of generation: they are a seat 
of occult power. Because a woman is so often regarded as tem- 
porarily or permanently unclean, contact with her in the intimacy 
of the sexual embrace would naturally be considered to involve pol- 
lution, sometimes for the man alone, sometimes for the woman as 
well. Such an idea combines readily with the further notion that 
the physical uncleanness resulting from the discharge of fluid by 
both parties, at the completion o ^cohabitation, becomes a source of 
ritual uncleanness. This is especially true of the seminal fluid, 
which may sometimes be believed to pollute a man who has had no 
connection with a woman. 1 It follows, therefore, that even as be- 
tween married couples sexual intercourse may be held to produce 
pollution and to require their ceremonial purification. 2 

The people of Kiwai, an island off the southern coast of New 
Guinea, never allow a woman who has frequent sexual intercourse 
with her husband to treat a sick person, for her "mere presence" 
might endanger the patient's life. If a man wishes to visit regu- 
larly a sick person (for instance, his brother), he must cease to 
cohabit with his wife during the time. 3 

The natives of New Britain are very careful that no one who 
has just engaged in sexual intercourse shall come into the presence 
of a wounded man undergoing treatment, for the patient would 
be certain to die in consequence. Such a visit can be made with 
safety only when one day at least has elapsed since the carnal con- 
nection. This regulation does not apply to cases of ordinary 
sickness, but it does apply to the case of a parturient woman. 
Her child would surely die were it violated. 4 

At Malekula (one of the New Hebrides) a man who has 
cohabited with his wife on the previous night does not enter a 
new garden, where the yams are still young and growing, though 
he does enter gardens in which the yams areialmost ready to be 

129 



130 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

harvested. 5 At Erromanga a man may on no account touch his 
own food with his hands after he has had connection with a 
woman. He must wait twenty-four hours and first wash himself 
before doing so. Until then he holds his food in a leaf and eats 
from the leaf. Nor may he go into his gardens until the same 
period has elapsed, lest his yams be injured. This prohibition 
does not affect women. 6 

The Bechuana of South Africa consider that for the recovery 
of a sick man it is of the utmost importance that his nurses ab- 
stain from all sexual intercourse, licit or illicit. "The mere pres- 
ence of an adulterer or adulteress in a sick room is dangerous to 
an invalid; and if a woman were to visit her paramour in his 
sickness, or even permit him to hear her voice in the distance, he 
would suffer a relapse, and probably die. A man who has lent 
his wife to a friend is tabooed from visiting that friend in sick- 
ness, or speaking within earshot of the invalid, or attending his 
funeral." 7 Among the Thonga married people constitute a danger 
for those members of the community who are in a weak state of 
health. They must not come into contact with boys recently cir- 
cumcised, because in that case the wounds would not heal prop- 
erly. Nor must they enter the hut of a person dangerously ill ; this 
would hasten his death. People who are just recovering from a 
disease must tie around their ankles a particular kind of root. It 
will protect them from the perspiration or emanation left by mar- 
ried people in their footprints, "because, as one of my informants 
said, .... 'married people are hot'." 8 

Among the Kgatla of the Bechuanaland Protectorate "the re- 
strictions on sexual intercourse are associated with the idea that 
at certain times a person's blood becomes 'hot* and until he has 
'cooled down* he is in a condition harmful to others with whom 
he comes into very close contact. Both men and women still ca- 
pable of bearing children are 'hot' immediately after intercourse, 
and, since they presumably lead active sexual lives, they are ac- 
cordingly debarred from taking part in certain forms of ritual." 
It is believed that if a "hot" person indulges in coitus before "cool- 
ing down" his or her partner in the act will meet with misfortune. 
A man who had intercourse with a "hot" woman might be stricken 
with disease or be crippled or become impotent ; he might even die. 
To avoid such consequences he must be successfully doctored. 
When a "hot" man sleeps with a woman, she will have irregulari- 
ties of menstruation and may ultimately become sterile, unless, 
again, she is successfully doctored. Because of these dangers 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 131 

arising from "hot blood" all people thus affected are expected to 
refrain from sexual intercourse until they have cooled down. In 
the teaching given children the need for doing so is stressed very 
strongly. A proverb is often quoted in this connection : "A suicide 
is not mourned/' meaning, that if you deliberately sleep with an 
unclean woman and are injuriously affected thereby, no one will 
sympathize with you ; it was your own fault. Our authority con- 
siders that the symptoms in both men and women are almost cer- 
tainly those of gonorrhea, a disease fairly common among the 
Kgatla but not specifically identified by them because it is re- 
garded as one of the complaints arising from infection by "hot 
blood/' 9 

The Zulu have a saying, "The lap of that woman is unlucky," 
referring to a man, just married, whom the foe stabs at the first 
onset of battle. 10 Among the northern Ngoni of Nyasaland mar- 
ried men did not go to war, as a rule, because their comrades 
considered them unreliable. 11 At the erection of a new Ngoni 
village, when two people are chosen to make a ritual "beating of 
the bounds" and to cut the first tree, the choice falls on a young 
girl either immature or just past puberty, "who is not always 
thinking things" and on a man "who is not always snatching 
things." The satisfaction of the sexual instinct is thus referred 
to. 12 

The Nandi regard the sexual act as producing ceremonial un- 
cleanness. People after cohabitation are said to be "dirty" (sim- 
wek). They must purify themselves by bathing or by taking a 
purge. The term simwek is likewise applied to women at men- 
struation, to a man who has had an involuntary seminal emission, 
to the warrior who has killed an enemy, to one who has eaten the 
flesh of an animal killed by a poisoned arrow or by lightning, or 
of an animal that has died of a disease, and to a person who has 
touched a corpse. It further applies to those who have prepared 
poison or have eaten locusts, and to the whole tribe when it has 
been defeated in war. 18 Some East African tribes think that if 
people cohabit while the cattle are out grazing the animals will 
die. 14 Presumably, the pollution produced by sexual congress is 
believed to affect the food of the cattle and, through the food, the 
animals themselves. 

Among the Loango Negroes the father and other men may 
see a newly born child only after its navel string has been cut 
and burnt, and then only if on the preceding night they have not 
indulged in sexual intercourse. 15 An Ijaw woman, on the morning 



132 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 



after cohabitation with her husband, must always wash before 
cooking. 16 

Among the Creek Indians a wounded man was isolated in a 
hut at some distance from the village and was carefully protected 
from dangerous visitors. "But what is yet more surprising in their 
physical, or rather theological regimen, is, that the physician is so 
religiously cautious of not admitting polluted persons to visit any 
of his patients, lest the defilement should retard the cure, or spoil 
the warriors, that before he introduces any man, even any of their 
priests, who are married according to the law, he obliges him to 
assert either by a double affirmative, or by two negatives, that he 
has not known even his own wife, in the space of the last natural 
day." 17 The same taboo is still observed by the Kwakiutl of Brit- 
ish Columbia. They do not allow a young couple, just married, 
to see a sick person, because, as the Indian informant declared, 
they believe that the man and his wife are "always in bed together, 
and that is the same as menstruation." The exhalation from the 
couple is bad for the sick person, who may die from its effects. 18 

Taboos of sexual intercourse are commonly imposed on cer- 
tain critical occasions. They form a feature of the intichiuma 
ceremonies performed by the rude aborigines of Central Australia 
to bring about the breeding of the animals and the flowering of 
the plants upon which the natives depend for food. In the Kaitish 
tribe, for example, a headman must have no intercourse with his 
wife all the time he is performing the rites to make the grass 
grow, for if he did so the grass seed would not sprout properly 
and his body would swell up when he tasted any of it. In the rain- 
making intichiuma of the same tribe the men concerned with the 
rites must similarly abstain from women. 19 At Yam, one of the 
Torres Straits Islands, warriors might not sleep with their wives 
before battle, else "bow and arrow belong other fellow he smell 
you, he smell what you do night, he shoot you, you no got luck." 20 

Among the natives in the neighborhood of Port Moresby, 
New Guinea, the rule prevails that the leader of a trading voyage 
to procure arrowroot must observe strict continence until the re- 
turn from the expedition. "They say if this is not done the canoe 
of the chief will be sunk on the return voyage, all the arrowroot 
lost in the sea, and he himself covered with shame. He who observes 
the rule of self-denial, returns laden with arrowroot, has not a 
drop of salt water to injure his cargo, and so is praised by his 
companions and crew." 21 The Kiwai Papuans think that a man 
who cohabits with his wife before going on the warpath will 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 133 

probably be killed. "During the days preceding a fighting expedi- 
tion the warriors eat in the men's house, and at least in the no- 
tions of certain people must avoid having their food cooked by 
women who are used to sexual intercourse. The young warriors 
abstain from playing with the girls and do not even speak to 
them/' 22 The Koita, another Papuan tribe, insist on continence 
when a new garden is being made, otherwise the yams will grow 
but poorly. 28 

In Rossel Island, which belongs to the Louisiade Archipelago, 
a taboo on sexual intercourse is imposed for two or three months 
while a large net is being fabricated. It must be abandoned if 
one of the fabricators breaks the taboo. 24 In the Trobriand Islands 
the men weeding and clearing the plantations must not approach 
women. 25 A similar prohibition is observed by these islanders in 
time of war. Not only must a man abstain from sexual intercourse, 
he must also avoid sleeping on the same mat or on the same bed- 
stead with a woman. "Any amorous dalliance at such a time 
would be regarded as dangerous to the community's chances for 
winning the war, and therefore as shameful and unseemly." 26 

The inhabitants of Wogeo, one of the Schouten Islands off 
the northern coast of New Guinea, are afraid of possible con- 
tamination by sexual intercourse unless both parties are in the 
proper condition to engage in it. Women, it seems, are auto- 
matically and easily cleansed by the process of menstruation, but 
men, in order to protect themselves from disease, must period- 
ically incise the male member and allow a quantity of blood to 
flow. This operation is often called "men's menstruation." A 
man who performs it on himself avoids sexual intercourse until 
his wounds have healed, about two months later. Should he have 
intercourse before the expiration of the allotted time, both parties 
are likely to die, though they may save themselves by confessing 
their guilt and by carrying out a magical rite. These savages, 
who believe that the penalty for touching a woman in her courses 
is a wasting disease certain to be fatal, are also careful to avoid 
contact with a "menstruating man." He himself takes various 
precautions: he does not touch his skin with his fingernails and 
when he eats he uses a fork. The operation of incision is also 
carried out after the performance of certain tasks which involve 
great danger to those who take part in them. They include the 
erection of a new men's house, the burial of a corpse, participa- 
tion in an expedition with intent to commit murder, and initiation 
of a youth into manhood, All such undertakings are polluting to 



134 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

men, and the flow of blood, which follows the operation, is con- 
sidered to be necessary for their purification. There are other 
undertakings, not regarded as so dangerous, for which incision is 
necessary but to a lesser extent. Thus, the owner of a trading 
canoe must perform the operation on himself, but the members 
of his crew are satisfied with avoiding their wives. Similarly, 
when a net for snaring wild pigs is first made, the workers oper- 
ate on themselves, but when the net is subsequently used all they 
need to do is to leave women alone. A person who has performed 
the incision rite is said to be bwaruka, a word whose meaning 
corresponds in some respects to that of the Polynesian mana. 27 

The Manus of the Admiralty Islands observe continence for 
two or three days before going to war and for five days before 
fishing with large nets. 28 The natives of New Britain "were very 
particular in preserving chastity during or before a fight, and 
they believed that if a man slept with his wife he would be killed 
or wounded." Sexual intercourse was also forbidden while the 
ceremonies of the secret societies were being performed and when 
some new song-dances were being learned. A man who violated 
the last-mentioned taboo could not sing correctly. 29 The New 
Caledonians require women to remain continent for some time 
before they plant the gardens and for some time after their work 
has been completed. 30 Marquesan women, when making coconut 
oil, must be continent for five days, otherwise they would be un- 
able to extract any oil from the nuts. 81 

In the Caroline Islands a strict rule requires a man about to 
go fishing to abstain from sexual intercourse for eight or nine 
days before he sets out. This period he spends in the clubhouse 
where unmarried men live. A man who violates the taboo and 
persists in joining the party of fishers will get some dangerous 
malady, particularly a swelling of the legs. So great is the fear 
of sexual contagion among these islanders that men are not al- 
lowed to touch fishing gear for twenty-four hours "after they 
have fulfilled their conjugal duty." 32 The natives of the Mortlock 
Islands, a part of the Caroline group, proscribe any sexual inter- 
course in time of war; a man who violated the rule would die a 
sudden death. 88 During the fishing season, which lasts for six to 
eight weeks, every Yap fisherman is subject to many restrictions. 
He keeps away from the village, even when resting, and lives in 
the men's clubhouse. Women are very strictly tabooed to him ; he 
may not even look at a woman. "If the heedless fisherman steal 
but a glance, flying fish will infallibly bore out his eyes at night." 84 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 135 

On the island of Halmahera warriors keep continent in order 
to preserve their strength. 85 Among the Malays of the Malay 
Peninsula the strictest chastity is observed in a stockade, lest the 
bullets of the garrison lose their power. 86 Among the Kachin 
(Chingpaw) of Burma the brewing of beer is regarded as a very 
important undertaking; the women, while engaged in it, have to 
live in "almost vestal seclusion." 87 Some of the tribes of Assam 
believe that until the crops are harvested "the slightest inconti- 
nence might ruin all." Assamese headhunters, both before and 
after a raid, may not cohabit with their wives or eat food cooked 
by a woman. "Indeed, so strong is the genna [taboo] against 
any intercourse with women, that on one occasion a woman, the 
wife of the headman, who was quite ignorant of the fact that 
her husband was returning with a party of warriors to lay the 
heads before the war stone, spoke to him .... When she learnt 
the awful thing she had done, she sickened and died." 38 The 
Lhota Naga require women engaged in the making of pots to 
refrain from sexual intercourse. The women must also avoid any 
strong-smelling food, such as beef, goat's flesh, dog's flesh, or fish, 
for eating these would cause the pots to "ring" badly. No outsider 
may look on while the pots are being fired, and only those women 
who help the potters in carrying the pots or in collecting fuel may 
be present when these are fired. Were a man to see the pots at this 
critical stage of their manufacture they would all crack. 89 

The necessity of continence upon certain occasions is strongly 
emphasized by some South African peoples. The Zulu, when about 
to go to war, must not associate with their wives ; otherwise they 
would lose all power of discrimination in battle and would soon 
be killed. 40 The Thonga prohibit sexual relations in warfare, dur- 
ing the whole period that hunting parties are absent, and in time 
of an epidemic. This prohibition does not apply so severely to 
unmarried boys and girls "amusing themselves" as it does to reg- 
ularly married people, for it is chiefly the bad conduct of the 
latter which endangers the community at a critical epoch. 41 

Among the Ba-ila of Northern Rhodesia the occasions when 
sexual intercourse is interdicted are very numerous. A woman 
making beer must abstain, or the beer would not ferment. She 
must abstain just before sowing her fields, lest the seed should 
fail to sprout. The people who thresh out the grain and those who 
store the grain are also required to be continent. A man starting 
on a journey keeps away from all women the night before, or he 
would have bad luck on the road and fail to accomplish his busi- 



136 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

ness. Some men will not visit women before going on a hunt, 
for fear lest they should be hurt on the way or be mauled by a 
wild beast. Other men, on the contrary, regard intercourse as 
giving them good luck in hunting. The smelters of iron do not 
engage in sexual intercourse. Above all, warriors must be strictly 
continent as soon as preparations for fighting have begun. A 
breach of this rule would mean certain death in the fight and 
would very likely involve the entire army in disaster. 42 The Bam- 
bala impose a strict taboo for the smelters of iron while away 
from the village. If a workman wishes to visit the village, he 
must on no account have connection with his wife. The women 
staying in the village must not wash, or anoint themselves, or put 
on any ornaments that might attract masculine glances. They are 
regarded as being in the same condition as recently bereaved wid- 
ows. Should a workman transgress the rule of continence by 
having intercourse with his wife or with any other woman, the 
smelting would be a failure. 48 

The Bechuana assert that during the performance of the boys' 
puberty rites, which last for nearly three months and are soon fol- 
lowed by the puberty rites for girls, cohabitation was tabooed to 
the entire community. "This prohibition has long fallen into dis- 
use ; and those of us who know something of the incontinence of 
these people find it difficult to believe that it was ever observed. 
Sexual intercourse is, however, still taboo for those who are tak- 
ing any part in the puberty rites ; and it is believed that violation 
of the taboo would be followed by great fatality among the neo- 
phytes." 44 

The Konde of the Lake Nyasa region impose continence upon 
married couples during wartime. A warrior who is guilty of illicit 
^intercourse will be killed at the first spear throw before he has 
a chance to hurl his own weapon, while a chief will be defeated 
and his men slain. 45 The Wagiriama think that if men have inter- 
course with their wives during wartime "they will be unable to 
kill any of their enemies, and that if they themselves receive a 
trifling wound it will prove fatal." 48 The Wasania, a neighbor- 
ing tribe, say that if a man has intercourse with his wife during 
a hunt he will meet with bad luck and find no game. 47 

A Masai man preparing poison must be continent during the 
eight days that he is so engaged, and the man and woman chosen 
to make honey wine must be continent for two days before they 
begin to brew and for the six days that the brewing lasts. The 
Masai think that if the couple were to have intercourse at this 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 137 

time the wine would be undrinkable and the bees which made the 
honey would fly away. 48 The Akikuyu do not allow sexual inter- 
course to take place during an eight days' festival held to secure 
divine blessing on their flocks and herds. Any breach of the rule 
would be followed by a mortality among the animals. 49 The Ban- 
yoro of Uganda require men engaged in making charcoal, dig- 
ging the iron ore, and smelting it, to observe strict chastity. 50 

The Bakongo require a woman to remain continent while 
planting pumpkin and calabash seeds. If she fails to observe the 
rule during this delicate operation, the crop will be a failure. How- 
ever, she may make the holes for the reception of the seeds, but 
her girl child or another woman who has remained continent must 
drop them into the ground and cover them over. 51 

Among the Azande (Niam-Niam), another tribe of the Bel- 
gian Congo, a red powder derived from a poison creeper finds 
use in divination. It is mixed with water and then is squeezed 
into the beaks of domestic fowls, which are compelled to swallow 
the paste. From the behavior of the fowls thereafter, especially 
by their death or survival, the Azande believe themselves able to 
divine the future and discover hidden things. The poison creeper 
does not grow in their country, and a long and dangerous jour- 
ney must be made to procure it. Those who take part in such an 
expedition observe taboos on sexual intercourse, on oiling their 
bodies, and on eating certain animal and vegetable foods. Were 
the taboos broken, the expedition might end in disaster and the 
poison lose its potency. 52 

In the old kingdom of Congo (Loango), when the sacred 
pontiff made a circuit about the country, all the people observed 
strict continence, and those who did not do so suffered death. They 
thought that this precaution was necessary to preserve the pontiff's 
life. Warning of his presence abroad was given by the public crier, 
so that no one could plead ignorance as an excuse for a breach of 
the law. 58 

The Fan of French Equatorial Africa subject smiths to many 
burdensome taboos, especially of a sexual nature. These must be 
observed for two months before the working of iron begins and 
as long as it continues. The smith's craft, in consequence, is 
highly unpopular. 54 

A Baya hunter must have no intercourse with his wife for 
three days before he starts out on an expedition. 55 Some Nigerian 
tribes (the Mbolli and Abuan) do not allow any sexual relations 
during the making and planting of farms. "Till every 'seed of 



138 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Proserpine' has been laid in the dark ground .... neither wife 
nor maid may yield to the prayer of husband or lover; for should 
the strictest chastity fail to be practiced during this period, the 
farm of the frail one would yield but scanty increase." 56 Ibibio 
men, while on the warpath, are forbidden to sleep in or even near 
a house where women may be found. 57 Among the Kwotto con- 
scientious hunters abstain from sexual intercourse for a consid- 
erable time before starting out on the chase, lest the efficacy of 
their weapons be impaired. Should a woman touch them, not only 
would they become useless, but she herself would get a skin dis- 
ease and be obliged to scratch herself continually. After returning 
from a hunt the men commonly have no relations with women for 
a month or two, in order to avoid illness. The idea seems to be 
that by contact with spiritual influences in this case the souls of 
the slain animals a hunter becomes saturated with a dangerous 
potency, so that it is prudent to allow some of it to "wear off/' as 
it were, before resuming the normal sex life. Serious-minded 
fishers often observe the same restriction. 58 

The Jivaro of eastern Ecuador require the maker of a blow- 
gun or of a shield to remain continent during its manufacture, as 
well as to observe various dietary restrictions. If he does not 
keep these taboos, the blowgun or shield will prove defective and 
not fulfill its purpose. 69 The Huichol Indians (in the Mexican 
state of Jalisco) ascribe divine powers to a little species of cactus, 
the hikuliy eating of which throws them into a state of ecstasy. 
The plant does not grow in their country, but has to be gathered 
every year by men who undertake a long journey for the purpose. 
The cactus gatherers must remain continent. Anyone who broke 
the rule would fall ill and, moreover, would jeopardize the success 
of the expedition. 60 Among the Zuni sexual relations are taboo 
(teckwi) during the ten days of the winter solstice, for four days 
following the planting of prayer sticks, and while dances and 
other religious performances are held. In many ceremonies the 
taboo is extended to include touching, addressing, or even seeing 
a person of the opposite sex. 61 According to the testimony of an 
old authority, the Indian tribes in what is now the southeastern 
part of the United States practiced continence while on the war- 
path. They also abstained from sexual intercourse "even with 
their own wives" for three days and nights before going to war. 82 
Karok hunters, before setting forth, abstained for three days 
from touching any woman ; failure to do so meant that they would 
miss their quarry. 68 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 139 

Among the Nootka (Aht) of Vancouver Island the men who 
are to take part in whale fishing must prepare themselves for this 
work by abstaining for several months from their usual food and 
from intercourse with their wives. They must also wash them- 
selves morning, noon, and night and rub their bodies with twigs 
or a rough stone. Should there be any accident during the expe- 
dition, such as the damaging or capsizing of a canoe by a whale, 
it is assumed that some of the crew have failed in the preparatory 
offices, and a strict inquiry is instituted by the chief men of the 
tribe. Delinquents are severely dealt with. 64 

The pollution resulting from sexual intercourse would natu- 
rally be intensified when it takes place outside the bonds of matri- 
mony. The belief is widespread that adultery, fornication, and 
incest contaminate the guilty parties and, in addition, may bring 
disaster to those with whom they come into contact or to the en- 
tire social group. Such ideas cannot have been without influence 
in evoking an incipient ethical attitude toward illicit sexual rela- 
tions. 05 

Conjugal fidelity, in primitive society, is much more commonly 
required of the wife than of the husband. Nevertheless, there are 
both monogamous and polygamous peoples who condemn and pun- 
ish severely the commission of adultery by either party to a mar- 
riage. Other peoples consider adulterous relations so abominable 
that these are supposed to carry with them some automatic pen- 
alty which is visited on the offenders or on the social group. To 
commit adultery is, then, to break a stringent taboo, with ill luck 
or disaster as the consequence. 

Among some of the Queensland tribes blindness is supposed 
to afflict men who persistently rape married women when alone 
and unprotected out in the bush. This punishment is not auto- 
matic, however ; it is necessary for the man whose honor has been 
sullied to work nefarious magic on the visual organs of the cul- 
prit without the latter's knowledge. The culprit becomes incurably 
blind and can see no more women to assault. 68 The natives of 
Duke of York Island believe that if the wife of a fisherman com- 
mits adultery while he and his associates are away on an expedi- 
tion, it will be impossible for them to catch a shark. 67 

In some of the Solomon Islands cases of difficult parturition 
are explained as due to the uncleanness of the mother, who had 
committed adultery. The people of Mala resort to divination to 
discover the name of the man responsible for her condition. If 
he is found, he confesses and pays a money fine. The birth there- 



140 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

upon takes place without further difficulty. 68 Fijian women are 
taught that concealment of illicit love "will inevitably engender a 
long train of ailments and bad luck, which may be avoided by 
open confession. When childbirth is difficult the sufferer is ex- 
horted to make a clean breast of all her affairs. When she does 
not do so, the midwives mention the names of those they suspect, 
and when at last they utter that of the real father the babe comes 
forth without further difficulty." Illicit love is as bad for the 
man as the woman. Youths who have had amours are enjoined. to 
confess before marriage, for otherwise they will suffer from a sort 
of general debility or anemia and will probably die. 89 

In Ontong Java, a group of coral islands which lie to the 
northeast of the Solomons and whose inhabitants speak a Poly- 
nesian dialect, "a case of flagrant adultery will disturb a village. 
The women gather around the well and discuss the matter for 
hours. Their general conclusion is that the woman is unworthy 
of her sex. At the same time the men talk about the incident as 
they sit on their platforms above the beach. They abuse the two 
culprits and as a rule suggest appropriate punishments." The 
natives say that even if the husband does not take summary venge- 
ance on the adulterer the kipua (ancestral spirits) will do so by 
making him mortally ill. "When, for the sake of a discussion, I 
ventured to doubt the efficacy of punishment by the kipua, I was 
always overwhelmed by dozens of examples which seemed to the 
natives conclusively to prove that it did take place." 70 

In the Marquesas Islands an unmarried girl enjoyed sexual 
freedom; once married, she was strictly reserved to her husband. 71 
Similarly, a Maori girl was noa, or common, until her marriage. 
She could select as many companions as she liked, without being 
thought guilty of any impropriety. When, however, she was 
given away by her friends to someone as her future master she 
then became tapu to other men and might be put to death for un- 
faithfulness. 72 A difficult parturition was explained by some breach 
of the taboo rules by the woman, and a seer endeavored to dis- 
cover what she had done or failed to do. 78 

The Sea Dayak of Sarawak believe that if a wife is unfaith- 
ful while her husband is away on the warpath he will surely lose 
his life in the enemy's country. 74 The Kayan, another Bornean 
people, believe that the spirits will surely punish adultery by visit- 
ing the whole community with failure of the crop and other mis- 
fortunes. 75 

Karen children are told that adultery and fornication are dis- 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 141 

pleasing to the god of heaven and earth. In consequence, the rains 
do not come or do not come at the proper time, the dry season 
is irregular, and the crops are bad. When such has been the 
case for a year or two, the villagers are persuaded that the calam- 
ity is due to the secret sins of some of their members. The trans- 
gressors, when discovered, must make a propitiatory sacrifice of 
a hog. The woman takes one foot of the hog and the man takes 
another, and with the feet they scrape out furrows in the ground. 
These are filled with the hog's blood. Then they scratch the 
ground with their hands and pray to the god of heaven and earth, 
humbly confessing that by their act the productiveness of the 
country has been destroyed. 78 The aboriginal inhabitants of the 
Rajmahal Hills in Bengal imagine that adultery, undetected and 
unexpiated, brings disaster to the village, which will be plague- 
smitten or ravaged by tigers or other animals. 77 

Every year in January, on a day fixed by the chief, the adult 
males of a Bechuana tribe go through a purificatory rite which 
consists in anointing the body with the juice of the leaves of the 
lerotse, a kind of gourd. The rite is performed in the great kraal 
of the tribe. Then every man goes to his own kraal, assembles 
the members of his family, and repeats the anointing process on 
them. Only after this has been done is it allowable to eat of the 
new crops. That night every man sleeps ritually with his chief 
wife. If the wife has committed adultery during the preceding 
year, she must confess the deed before her husband comes to her 
and must be purified the next morning. The husband's father 
presides at the ceremony. It is performed by a witch doctor, who 
fumigates the woman and her husband with the smoke of a bean- 
plant placed in a pot between the woman's knees as she sits on the 
ground. Her husband sits opposite her, with her knees between 
his own. He makes a slight cut with a razor under her navel and 
she does the same thing to him. To the blood which follows this 
operation each one adds a little medicine and then rubs the mix- 
ture into the cut in the other's abdomen. The purification is now 
completed and may be followed by the ritual coitus. 78 

Among the Bavenda of the Transvaal a woman who has given 
birth is visited soon after by a medicine man, who questions her 
as to the legitimacy of her child. If she does not answer truth- 
fully, the child will be dead by sundown. If she confesses adultery, 
her husband will claim two head of cattle from her seducer. There 
the matter ends, for the child is regarded as the husband's prop- 
erty. It often happens that the mother suffers intense pain before 



142 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

she is given her child to suckle. In that case the mid wives refuse 
to summon the doctor to rub her breasts, so that she may give 
milk, until she has divulged the name of her lover. "Sometimes 
the agony is so great that the mother will say any name that she 
thinks will satisfy her persecutors, in order to escape from her 
sufferings, although she may be innocent of the indiscretion to 
which she confesses." If she owns to a lover, her breasts must be 
purified with a lotion. 79 

Adultery, for the Thonga, includes only sexual relations with 
a married woman by anyone not her husband. A man, whether 
married or unmarried, is permitted such relations with a girl. In 
this South African tribe adultery is considered to be a very great 
sin, partly because it is a theft, the married woman being owned by 
a master, and partly because it is the violation of a taboo and in- 
volves contamination. For the adulteress it means that she will 
have a protracted and difficult labor. This conviction is so strong 
that when a woman knows that the child she is about to bear is 
not her husband's she will admit the fact secretly to the midwife, 
in order to spare herself untold suffering at confinement. But the 
adulterer gets off by paying a fine to the aggrieved husband as 
much money as is necessary to buy a wife. 80 

The Mashona of Southern Rhodesia explain a difficult birth 
by the adultery of either the husband or the wife. The child can- 
not be delivered until the adultery has been confessed and the 
paramour's name revealed. 81 The Mashona are firmly persuaded 
that an elephant can detect an adulterous man when it meets him 
and that it immediately starts in pursuit of him. However, if the 
adulterer makes a full confession, the animal will spare his life. 
A man whose wife is unfaithful will also be chased. Women are 
therefore urged to remain virtuous, lest they expose their hus- 
bands to the danger of being charged by elephants. 82 The Ba-ila 
of Northern Rhodesia regard a miscarriage with horror and be- 
lieve it to be the penalty for adultery. 88 

An Awemba woman, even in extremis, must name her lover. 
The man whom she mentions is called a murderer, he is held guilty 
without further investigation, and is obliged to pay a heavy fine to 
the injured husband. When both mother and child die in child- 
birth, people think that she must have committed adultery with 
many men. 84 In the Nyasaland Protectorate "Isolde is expected to 
make, without delay, full confession of her fault to her husband, 
who otherwise would die if he partook of food in company with 
Tristan .... A somewhat similar idea is the universal belief 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 143 

that a woman whose husband has been unfaithful will grow ill 
and die of her next child ; or that a child at the breast will die if 
its father is unfaithful to the mother. All the deaths of women 
with child, or of a child at the breast, are attributed to this cause. 
Nothing, however, appears to happen nowadays to the guilty 
father, except that he is excluded from the family mourning 
ceremonies." 85 

When Ngoni men were away fighting, the people at home, and 
especially the wives of the warriors, feared to commit adultery 
lest harm should happen to the absent ones. A man who had com- 
mitted adultery before going to war was "afraid in his heart" 
that he might act the coward. If a man whose wife he had seduced 
saw him when he was wounded, his wounds suppurated and he 
collapsed. A Ngoni woman guilty of adultery was said to be 
"bound" or "tight," and because of this condition she might ex- 
pect a difficult confinement. As the birth took place in the hus- 
band's village, the woman was at the mercy of her female rela- 
tives-in-law, who, if delivery was delayed, tried to force her to 
confess her guilt. If, however, they were convinced of her inno- 
cence, they turned on the husband and accused him of unfaith- 
fulness. Until he confessed, they believed that the child could not 
be born. 86 The Konde require a wife to be faithful to her husband 
while he is out hunting, for if she committed adultery he would 
meet his death in the chase. 87 

The Washamba of Tanganyika Colony think that protracted 
labor pains are a proof that the woman has had sexual relations 
with several men. 88 The Wagogo, in the same part of Africa, 
ascribe a man's failure in hunting to his wife's infidelity during 
his absence. They also think that her unfaithfulness exposes him 
to the danger of being wounded or killed by wild animals. 89 

The Akamba of Kenya consider it highly dangerous for a 
woman who has been confined to indulge in sexual relations with 
anyone except her husband before she menstruates for the first 
time after giving birth. Her adultery would most probably result 
in the death of her child. 90 We are also informed that in this 
tribe cohabitation with a married woman, while the cattle are out 
grazing, taboos them and causes them to die. However, the wom- 
an is generally afraid of bringing evil on the precious cattle, so 
she confesses what has been done. The animals are taken out of 
the kraal, purificatory medicine is placed on the ground before 
the gate, and they are then driven over the medicine. The woman 
also has to be ceremonially purified by an elder. 91 



144 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Among the Akikuyu, if a man's son commits adultery with 
one of his father's wives, and the father is still alive, the father 
becomes thahu, or ceremonially unclean. The father takes the un- 
cleanness because he begot the son. The latter must make peace 
with his sire by the formal present of a big male goat. TMs 
thahu is a very serious matter, and if it is not quickly removed by 
the council of elders the father will die. 92 

The Baganda punished an adulterer with death unless he was 
related to the person wronged, in which case the latter might be 
willing to accept a money compensation. "The worst consequence 
to the injured husband was the anger of his fetiches and gods, 
whose custodian was his wife. By her action the wife had involved 
her husband in their displeasure ; he was thus left exposed to the 
malice of any enemy and his danger was increased in time of 
war, because the gods had withdrawn their protection from him. 
Adultery was also regarded as a danger to children ; it was thought 
that women who were guilty of it during pregnancy caused the 
child to die, either prior to birth, or at the time of birth. Some- 
times the guilty woman would herself die in childbed ; or, if she 
was safely delivered, she would have a tendency to devour her 
child, and would have to be guarded, lest she should kill it. It was 
also supposed that a man who had sexual intercourse with any 
woman not his wife, during the time that any one of his wives 
was nursing a child, would cause the child to fall ill, and that un- 
less he confessed his guilt, and obtained from the medicine man 
the necessary remedies to cancel the evil results, the child would 
die." 98 

The Ovimbundu of Angola believe that an adulterous woman 
will die in childbed, unless a medicine man is called in to cure 
her. 94 The Warega of the Belgian Congo allow a man to cohabit 
with his wife until her delivery draws near; they think, how- 
ever, that if he has sexual relations with another woman during 
this time, the child will die. 95 Among the Bushongo it is taboo 
(ikina) for a husband whose wife is pregnant to "carry on" with 
another woman or even to meet one of his former sweethearts; if 
he did so, the expected child would die. 96 The Bahuana believe 
that adultery by a pregnant wife will be fatal to her child. 97 A 
Bakongo hunter must not commit adultery. "The test of a man's 
faithfulness in this is whether he hits or misses when he shoots. 
Should he habitually miss, he is unquestionably guilty." 98 

The Ga people of the Gold Coast are certain that an adulterous 
woman will die in childbed. Such a one enters her confinement in 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 145 

secret terror. It is said that friendly relatives often gag a par- 
turient woman, in order to prevent disgraceful disclosures by her. 
To call out the father's name when in labor gives vigor to the 
child, wakens its spirit, and causes it to move a "step" toward 
birth. Sometimes the child does not respond until the woman has 
called out several names besides that of her husband." The Ale 
Nsaw Ibo of Nigeria believe that their sex regulations were im- 
posed by the direct command of the Earth Goddess. "All our 
women," declared a native informant, "were sacred to Ale, there- 
fore in olden days no man might reach out a hand to touch a 
woman's leg or foot. Should a man meet a woman going to [the] 
bush, he must at once hide his eyes or pass by another way. In those 
days it was a very terrible sin to commit adultery. Should he fall 
into this crime, he was not only heavily fined but at once made 
outcaste. Never again was he permitted to join any 'company.' 
Never again might he drink or eat with others. As regarded his 
own family, because he was of their kin they would help to col- 
lect the fine, but after this was paid off they would have nothing 
further to do with him." 100 Among the Ibibio adultery at any 
rate with a father's wife was taboo and was also forbidden by 
law. The adulterer had to sacrifice to the ancestors or to the 
Earth Goddess in order to purify his house from pollution; he 
also paid a fine or damages for his transgression. 101 Nearly all 
the Southern Nigerian tribes hold it a very grave sin for a woman 
to prepare food for her husband when she has just returned from 
committing adultery. The sin is especially heinous if the sexual 
act takes place while the food is being cooked, for in that case her 
husband will probably die. A woman who does not confess to such 
adultery before giving birth will endanger both her own life and 
that of her offspring. 102 In Sierra Leone it is believed that a mar- 
ried woman who commits adultery during pregnancy will have a 
miscarriage or bear her child prematurely. 108 

When Huichol men are far away in search of the sacred cac- 
tus, the women whom they have left at home must be faithful to 
them. Infidelity on the part of a wife would cause her to fall sick 
and at the same time would probably result in the failure of the 
expedition. 104 The Tarahumara think that a woman who falls 
sick because of an illicit relationship can be cured provided she 
received no payment from her lover. But if she accepted money 
or goods of any kind her fate is sealed. 105 Among the Quinault 
Indians of Washington the wives of the whalers must observe 
strict continence during the absence of their husbands. "Should 



146 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

a woman be unfaithful while the hunt was on, the whales would 
be wary and 'wild/ and the men would be unable to kill any." 108 
Among the Haida of Queen Charlotte Islands, while the men were 
engaged in warfare, their wives "all slept in one house to keep 
watch over each other; for, if a woman were unfaithful to her 
husband while he was with a war-party, he would probably be 
killed." 107 The Aleuts believe that sea-otter hunters whose wives 
are unfaithful during their absence, or whose sisters are unchaste, 
lose all power to kill the animals and return home with empty 
hands. 108 It is said of the Greenland Eskimo that a man avoids 
another man's wife more because he shrinks from quarreling with 
the husband than because he regards adultery as morally wrong. 
Yet among them there is current a saying which suggests at least 
a vague moral condemnation of the act. "The whale, the musk-ox, 
and the reindeer left the country because men had too much to do 
with other men's wives." 109 

In primitive society post-pubertal and prenuptial intercourse 
between the sexes may be tolerated and even approved, especially 
if it is regarded as a method of courtship or as a form of "trial 
marriage." When, however, cohabitation results in pregnancy for 
the girl, she often becomes an object of reprobation as a taboo- 
breaker and, with her partner, requires a ceremonial purification. 
Unless this takes place, the guilty couple will suffer for their mis- 
deed; more commonly, the evil anticipated will descend upon the 
entire social group. The fear of a possible pregnancy may also 
lead to the imposition of a taboo of all sexual intercourse before 
marriage. 

The Sulka of New Britain believe that unmarried people who 
have carnal knowledge of each other contract a pollution (sle), 
which is fatal unless they confess their fault at once and undergo 
a purificatory ceremony. Until this has been done, they are dan- 
gerous to others as well as to themselves. They are shunned by 
everybody; no one will take anything from them; and children 
are warned not to approach them. A guilty man is publicly puri- 
fied, in the following manner. First, he drinks a mixture of sea 
water and ginger, to which some shredded coconut has been added. 
Next, he is thrown into the sea. The leaves out of which he drank 
the nauseating potion are taken by him into the water and placed 
under stones at the bottom. Then the man bathes, strips off the 
clothing which he had worn when polluted, and throws it away. 
Meanwhile, the men are watching him from the beach and singing 
a song. He finally emerges from the water, puts on a new loin 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 147 

cloth, and rejoins his fellows. A ceremony of purification (of a 
simpler kind) is also necessary for persons who have come upon 
a couple engaged in sexual intercourse. 110 

The Lubu of central Sumatra believe that an unmarried girl 
who becomes pregnant incurs the pollution called looi; it is so 
dangerous that she spreads misfortune wherever she goes. 111 In 
Nias it is also the general opinion that an unwedded girl who be- 
comes enceinte brings misfortune to the entire community. Hence 
when the rain fails for a while, all the maids in the village are 
carefully scrutinized to discover whether one of them may not 
show the sign of pregnancy vomiting. 312 

The Sea Dayak of Borneo ascribe an excessive rainfall to the 
immorality of two young people. The higher powers are invoked 
to pardon the sin, the offenders are banished from their homes, 
and the bad weather is then said to cease. 113 The Sibuyau, a sub- 
division of the Sea Dayak, attach an idea of great indecency to 
irregular connections. If an unmarried girl becomes pregnant, 
they fine the lovers and sacrifice a pig to appease the higher pow- 
ers. Were this not done, sickness or some other great calamity 
would descend on the entire tribe. 114 The Blu-u Kayan suppose 
that sexual intercourse between unmarried persons is punished 
by the spirits. The relatives of the guilty pair will meet with no 
success in farming, fishing, or hunting. 115 Among the natives of 
the Rajmahal Hills in Bengal sexual intercourse between unmar- 
ried peoples is strongly reprobated. A hog and a goat must be sac- 
rificed, and the blood of those animals is then sprinkled on the 
guilty couple "to wash out the stain" from the land. 110 

A custom which once prevailed among the Basuto indicates 
that with them the chastity of unmarried youths was regarded 
as essential for ritual correctness. The Basuto always lighted a 
new fire in a house where a birth had taken place. "For this pur- 
pose it was necessary that a young man of chaste habits should 
rub two pieces of wood quickly one against another, until a flame 
sprung up, pure as himself. It was firmly believed that a prema- 
ture death awaited him who should dare to take upon himself this 
office after having lost his innocence. As soon, therefore, as a 
birth was proclaimed in the village, the fathers took their sons to 
undergo the ordeal. Those who felt themselves guilty confessed 
their crime, and submitted to be scourged rather than expose 
themselves to the consequences of a fatal temerity. The same re- 
sult was obtained by offering them some milk to drink, in which 
certain drugs had previously been mixed. The imprudent youth, 



148 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

who might be led from motives of shame to accept this challenge, 
did not go unpunished ; malignant blotches broke out all over his 
body, the hair fell from his head, and if he escaped death, he 
could not avoid the infamy of his double fault." 117 

A Nandi girl who gives birth to a child before she marries 
is regarded with contempt for the rest of her life. She is never 
allowed to look inside a granary, "for fear of spoiling the 
grain." 118 The Dorobo, a hunting tribe of Kenya, allow only the 
children of the village (or perhaps very old women) to eat the 
first crop of honey out of a new hive. "The reason of this is said 
to be that if a young woman were to eat any and then misconduct 
herself with a man, the honey crop would be spoilt and the bees 
would not enter any of the hives hung up on that day." 119 By the 
Akamba illicit relations between a woman past the age of child- 
bearing and a youth were thought to result in his becoming im- 
potent. Both parties had to be ceremonially purified. 120 

Should a Lango girl be found in illicit intercourse with a man 
out of doors, or should she complain of such intercourse, all 
passers-by throw grass on the spot, for the evil influence of the 
high god Jok is immanent there. 'The man is said to have 
'brought god' on the girl." 121 

The Ovakumbi of Angola believe that the incontinence of 
young people under the age of puberty, if it were not severely 
punished, would cause their king to die within the year. Death 
was formerly the penalty imposed for this offense. 122 When the 
country of Loango is suffering from drought and a famine results, 
the natives attribute it to the commerce of men with immature 
girls. Every effort is made to discover and punish the guilty 
parties. If found, they are heavily fined and made to dance naked 
before all the people, who throw heated gravel and bits of glass 
at them as they run the gantlet. 123 Among the Baduma of Lake 
Chad "a child born out of wedlock is looked on as a disgrace and 
must be drowned. If this is not done, great misfortunes will 
happen to the tribe. All the men will fall sick, and the women, 
SOF.s, and goats will become barren." 124 

The reprobation of incest is probably universal in primitive 
society, for there are no communities known to be without prohi- 
bitions applying to sexual intercourse within certain degrees of 
real or artificial relationship. Nearly all savages condemn the 
union of parent and child and of brother and sister, but outside 
of these forbidden degrees the restrictions on mating vary greatly 
from tribe to tribe and from people to people. However incest 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 149 

may be defined, the abhorrence which it excites is profound. Death 
is the usual penalty for its commission. The dread power of the 
taboo may. also be invoked to uphold the incest rule. 125 

Some Queensland tribes have a belief in a supernatural being 
called Kohin. His home is in the Milky Way, but at night he 
roams about the earth in the guise of a gigantic warrior and kills 
whomever he meets. "It is said that Kohin is offended by anyone 
taking a wife from the prohibited sub-class or not wearing the 
mourning necklace for the prescribed period, or eating forbidden 
food. Such offences bring on the offenders Kohin' s anger, and 
sooner or later the person dies in consequence/' 126 In the Omeo 
tribe of Victoria dosely related people who had carnal connection 
were supposed to be bitten by supernatural snakes, and the punish- 
ment was the more dreaded because it might hang over the culprit 
for years. 127 

The Trobriands form an island group lying off the east end 
of New Guinea and inhabited by Papuo-Melanesians. The natives 
are divided into four totemic clans and these clans are exogamous. 
A man calls all the females of the clan to which he belongs his 
"sisters," and he may not marry one of them. Professor Mali- 
nowski found, however, that the breach of exogamy, when it 
concerns temporary cohabitation and not marriage, is by no means 
a rare occurrence among the natives and that their attitude toward 
it is usually lenient. "If the affair is carried on sub rosa with a 
certain amount of decorum, and if no one in particular stirs up 
trouble 'public opinion* will gossip, but not demand any harsh 
punishment. If, on the contrary, scandal breaks out everyone 
turns against the guilty pair and by ostracism and insults one or 
the other may be driven to suicide." Clan incest is also supposed to 
be punished automatically, the offenders being visited by disease 
or death. Nevertheless, even these penalties can be avoided, for the 
natives know certain magical spells and rites to nullify the evil 
consequences of the breach of the taboo. "It is no doubt better 
not to run the risk the counter-magic may have been imperfectly 
learned or faultily performed but the risk is not great." 128 

In Ontong Java marriage is forbidden between persons who 
apply relationship terms to one another. But here, as in the 
Trobriands, clan incest is regarded rather leniently by the social 
group. Sexual relations and even marriages do take place within 
the prohibited degrees. "Nothing is done to the culprits, not- 
withstanding the disapproval which everyone feels. They are not 
punished by the community in any definite manner, for instance 



150 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

by mutilation or death. Yet if one or other of the pair is taken 
ill it is almost certain that people will say that the kipua are pun- 
ishing him." These ancestral spirits are also believed to punish, 
not only incestuous persons, but also their descendants. 129 

We are told that in Tikopia, whose essentially Polynesian 
inhabitants have been little affected by European civilization, 
unions of close kin and even those of half-brothers with half- 
sisters do not excite more than an expression of community dis- 
approval. Such unions are allowable, but the children which re- 
sult from them will be diseased or weakly and likely to die young. 
The parents of the guilty pair, while living, took no steps to pre- 
vent the commission of incest, but after death they vent their 
accumulated spleen upon the offspring. 130 The Samoans "say that, 
of old, custom and the gods frowned upon the union of those in 
whom consanguinity could be closely traced. Few had the hardi- 
hood to run in the face of superstition ; but if they did, and their 
children died at a premature age, it was sure to be traced to the 
anger of the household god on account of the forbidden mar- 
riage. 181 The Gilbert Islanders believed that if people guilty of 
incest went unpunished the sun would hide his face from the place 
where the sin had been committed. The offenders were killed in 
some manner. The lightest punishment was to put the couple 
aboard a small canoe, with a few coconuts and a paddle (but not 
a sail), and thus abandon them to their fate. 132 

Many Bornean peoples, who suppose that adultery and forni- 
cation imperil not only the culprits but the community as well, 
entertain similar ideas about the evil effects of incest. In Sarawak, 
while almost all offenses are punishable by fines only, this is not 
true of incest. The Kayan think that incestuous relations gravely 
endanger the whole household and may result in starvation 
through failure of the rice crop. Accordingly, they put the 
culprits to death, either by driving a bamboo stake through their 
bodies or by enclosing them in a wicker cage which is then thrown 
into the river. Sexual relations between a man and his adopted 
daughter are most strongly reprobated. "The punishment of the 
incestuous couple does not suffice to ward off the danger brought 
by them upon the community. The household must be purified 
with the blood of pigs and fowls ; the animals used are the property 
of the offenders or of their family ; and in this way a fine is im- 
posed. When any calamity threatens or falls upon a house, espe- 
cially a great rising of the river which threatens to sweep away 
the house or the tombs of the household, the Kayans are led to 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 151 

suspect that incestuous intercourse in their own or in neighbour- 
ing houses has taken place; and they look around for evidences of 
it, and sometimes detect a case which otherwise would have re- 
mained hidden/' 183 By the Murut and Dusun of British North 
Borneo such calamities as plagues, floods, drought, and famine 
are ascribed to some undetected act of incest. The participants, if 
found, will be taken upstream from the village and killed in the 
river, so that their blood may flow past the village and wash away 
the effects of their act. Sometimes their blood is sprinkled about 
the village. 184 

In Celebes incestuous relations are supposed to produce a fail- 
ure of the crops and in Halmahera to be followed by torrential 
rains, earthquakes, or volcanic eruptions. 135 The Bagobo of Min- 
danao think that incestuous relations "cause the sea to rise and 
cover the land/' 138 The Khasi of Assam, who are divided into 
strictly exogamous clans, regard sexual intercourse between a man 
and a woman of the same clan as the greatest sin which can be 
committed. The offenders would be made outcasts and would be 
refused any funeral ceremonies after death. The Khasi think that 
clan incest results in all sorts of disasters: people will be struck 
by lightning or killed by tigers, the women will die in childbed, 
and so forth. These consequences can be avoided, however, if the 
priest sacrifices a pig and a goat to the higher powers. 137 

The idea that incest has injurious effects, not on the guilty 
parties, but on innocent persons is found among many African 
peoples. Some of the Bantu-speaking tribes of South Africa think 
that the failure of a newly born child to take the breast is caused 
by the mother's or the father's unfaithfulness "in heart at least." 138 
Some other South African tribes think that the offspring of unions 
within the prohibited degrees of relationship are monsters. 189 

The Washamba believe that the result of incestuous unions is 
the woman's sterility or the premature birth of her child. When 
one of their women, after being married, lost three children in 
succession, the calamity was attributed to incest which she had 
accidentally committed with her father before her marriage. 140 
The Akikuyu forbid the marriage of the children and grand- 
children of brothers and sisters. Breach of this rule is considered 
a very great sin. The offspring of such marriages will surely die, 
for their thahu or ceremonial uncleanness cannot be purged by 
any ceremonial. The parents are unaffected. It sometimes hap- 
pens that a young man unwittingly marries a girl who turns out 
to be his first or second cousin, and in that case the elders can 



152 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

perform a rite to sever the bond of blood relationship existing 
between the couple. 141 The Akamba think that a woman who has 
had incestuous relations with her brother cannot give birth to the 
child she has conceived by him ; she is sure to have a miscarriage 
unless purified by the elders. 142 

A Bakyiga girl who went wrong with some man of her own 
clan and got a child by him was driven away from her home and 
clan and had to live elsewhere. This harsh treatment "was due 
to the fear of ghosts, for her deed would anger the dead of the 
clan, who might cause illness among the living if the crime was 
not thus severely punished." However, if she did not conceive, 
she was not punished for intercourse with a fellow clansman. 148 
Among the Banyoro a girl guilty of incest was taken out of the 
kraal and sent away to friends, "for her presence would bring 
ill-luck to her home ; the children would die or the cows cast their 
calves." 144 The Dinka of the White Nile think that incest angers 
the ancestral spirits. A girl who has committed it will have no 
children when she marries and she will then be forced to confess 
her act. An atoning sacrifice is made. Should the girl or one of 
her relatives die before this has taken place, her lover is held re- 
sponsible and incurs bloodguiltiness. He must supply a bull for 
sacrifice. The father of the girl smears some of its stomach, 
contents over the bodies of the couple, thus removing the blood- 
guiltiness of the man and rendering the woman capable of bearing 
children. 145 The Bavili (Fjort) of Gabon are persuaded that if 
a man marries a woman of his mother's clan, the rains will not 
come in their due season. 146 

The Caribs of British Guiana believe that almost any kind of 
ill luck or sickness may result from the commission of incest. 
However, if a man is willing to take the chance of disaster, his 
fellows only laugh at him or regard him as singularly foolhardy. 147 
The Navaho do not marry within their own clan; if they did, 
declared an Indian informant, "their bones would dry up and 
they would die." 148 It is said of the Kenayern, an Alaskan tribe of 
Cook's Inlet, that in former times men did not marry within their 
own totemic group. In later times this custom was not rigidly 
observed, and to the resulting promiscuity the old people attributed 
the great mortality which decimated the tribe. 149 Some of the 
Alaskan tribes agree with South African natives that the offspring 
of incestuous unions are monsters. These are born with walrus 
tusks, beards, and other disfigurations. 150 

' Primitive society affords numberless instances of restrictions 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 153 

affecting relatives by blood or marriage, particularly father and 
daughter, mother and son, parents-in-law and children-in-law, 
brother and sister, uncle and niece, aunt and nephew, and certain 
cousins. The restrictions take various forms ; for instance, a per- 
son may not be allowed to mention the name of another, or speak 
to him, or eat in his presence, or take anything at his hand, or 
live under the same roof with him. Avoidance rules are socially 
enforced, for failure to observe them is at the least a serious breach 
of etiquette, and in some cases their infraction is punished se- 
verely, even by death or banishment from the community. In 
other cases avoidance rules rank as trueJaJboos^H-i 

In the Jajaurung tribe of Victoria "whenever a female child 
was promised in marriage to any man, from that very hour neither 
he nor the child's mother [was] permitted to look upon or hear 
each other speak, nor hear their names mentioned by others ; for 
if they did, they would immediately grow prematurely old and 
die." 152 The Wurunjerri, another Victorian tribe, believed that if 
a woman spoke to her son-in-law or to his brother her hair would 
turn white. 153 Among the Arunta a man may not eat the flesh of 
any animal which has been caught and killed, or even handled or 
seen, by certain persons. These include his father-in-law, the chil- 
dren of his sisters, the father of his mother-in-law, and other 
relatives. One who violated the taboo would become severely ill. 154 

The Kai of New Guinea forbid parents-in-law and children- 
in-law to mention each other's names. A person who does so is 
likely to die of consumption. 155 Among the Dusun of British 
North Borneo you must not mention by name your father, your 
mother, your father-in-law, and your mother-in-law. The Dusun 
say that if a man uttered the name of his mother his knees would 
swell. 150 Among the Dravidian-speaking tribes of the Central 
Indian Hills one of the most important taboos forbids a man from 
Doming in contact with the wife of his younger brother. The 
Dharkar believe that a man would acquire a stain if her shadow 
even crossed his path. 157 By the Birhor, a jungle tribe of Chota 
Nagpur, the names of certain relatives are tabooed. To utter them 
will surely bring sickness or some other misfortune to the person 
who does so or to a member of that person's family. 158 

The Ba-ila of Northern Rhodesia are persuaded that the ut- 
terance of certain personal names, such as those of one's father 
and mother and those of one's parents-in-law, brings misfortunes 
upon the person named or upon oneself. 159 The Bakaonde, another 
Rhodesian tribe, consider that for a man to enter his mother-in- 



154 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

law's hut or to look at her is only a shameful act without disas- 
trous consequences, but for him to have sexual relations with her 
means that his wife will die. 160 A Mashona couple, two or three 
months after their marriage, pay a formal visit to the wife's 
parents and observe certain rites, among which is the presentation 
of a few goats by the husband to his father-in-law. Until this 
public recognition of the marriage has taken place the son-in-law 
dares not meet his wife's parents, who think that their backs 
would be injured if he did so. 181 

By the Konde of the Lake Nyasa region it is considered one 
of the greatest of misfortunes for a man to see his daughter-in- 
law even by accident. He will fall into one sickness after another 
and finally will die a weak and miserable old man. Some people 
believe that he will no longer be able to stand upright, but will 
have to crawl on his buttocks for the rest of his life. On the other 
hand, a daughter-in-law who sees him has merely committed a 
breach of good manners and suffers no ill effects from her ac- 
tion. 162 Among the Baganda, if a son-in-law accidentally saw 
his mother-in-law's breasts, he sent to her in compensation a bark- 
cloth with which to cover them, "lest some illness, such as tremor, 
should come upon him." A man might not hold any communi- 
cation with his father's sisters' daughters or his mother's brothers' 
daughters; these cousins were even forbidden to approach each 
other or hand each other anything. Failure to observe such avoid- 
ance meant that they would fall ill, their hands would tremble, and 
they could do no work. 163 The Batamba, another tribe of Uganda, 
permit neither the parents nor the brothers and sisters of married 
children to sleep under the same roof. They say that otherwise 
sickness is caused. "The sickness is called bujugumiro, 'trem- 
bling/ from the verb kujugumira, 'to shiver or tremble.' This 
cannot be got out of their heads, and no amount of talking or 
arguing will convince them of the opposite. I have attended," 
continues our missionary informant, "many cases of this disease 
and I have not known one to recover .... The disease follow- 
ing does not come as a punishment from the gods, but as they 
say .... 'the illness comes by itself.' " lfl * 

The Indians of Yucatan believed that if a betrothed man were 
to encounter his future father-in-law or mother-in-law he could 
never beget children. 186 The Navaho Indians think that a man 
who looks his mother-in-law in the face will grow blind. The shouts 
warning men and mothers-in-law against an accidental meeting 
are said to be the commonest sounds in a Navaho camp. 166 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 155 

Rules of avoidance affect chiefly persons of opposite sex who 
are forbidden to mate. That such rules originated in the desire 
to prevent, at all costs, the commission of incest, is a matter of 
opinion ; that they have this result is a matter of fact. 

Birth and puberty are great natural crises in human life, times 
of high solemnity and significance, when every precaution must be 
taken against the mystic dangers which invest them. A mysterious 
and dangerous character also attaches to marriage as a critical 
event which brings the parties into a new phase of existence, and 
the supposed peril confronting them is increased because of the 
ideas so often entertained as to the defilement which results from 
sexual intercourse. 

The strictest continence may be required of newly married 
people on the first night following their marriage and often for 
a much longer period. A violation of the rule is sometimes be-/ 
lieved to be fraught with disaster for the couple. Among the 
Canelos Indians of Ecuador husband and wife do not sleep to- 
gether the first night after their marriage; if they did so, the 
husband would die. The reason which the natives give for this 
taboo is that a most dangerous demon (supai) claims the right to 
spend the wedding night with the bride. This right is voluntarily 
ceded to him by the bridegroom, although there is danger that the 
woman, having had intercourse with the demon, will either fall 
ill or become pregnant with a monstrous child. Even on the fol- 
lowing night intercourse between husband and wife is dangerous, 
because the demon still wants the woman for himself, and some- 
times the danger is not supposed to be quite over until two or 
three children have been born of the marriage. 167 A newly mar- 
ried couple, among the ancient Mexicans, passed four days in 
prayer and fasting, "without proceeding to any act of less de- 
cency, fearing that otherwise the punishment of heaven would 

fall upon them Until the fourth night the marriage was 

not consummated; they believed it would have proved unlucky, 
if they had anticipated the period of consummation." 168 

Even where continence is not observed, a ritual purification 
may be necessary after the first connection between husband and 
wife. For the Mountain Arapesh of British New Guinea this is 
exceedingly dangerous, and both parties have to perform a cere- 
mony to rid themselves of the great heat of sexual intercourse. 
Were the ceremony omitted, the man would be unable to hunt game 
and grow yams ; the woman could not bear children. 169 Among the 
Yahgan of Tierra del Fuego the husband, upon rising in the 



156 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

morning, takes a sea bath; if he did not do so his dogs would 
die. 170 The Thompson Indians of British Columbia require a 
newly married couple, though sleeping under the same robe, to 
refrain from sexual intercourse for a time, generally for four nights. 
After the wife has had connection with her husband she arises 
before daybreak, repairs to a stream, and washes herself. She 
spends the whole day in seclusion. 171 With the Eskimo of Kodiak, 
an island off the coast of Alaska, it is customary for both bride- 
groom and bride to bathe in hot water after the wedding night 
''for the purification both of himself and his partner." 172 

Continence is only one of many restrictions often imposed 
upon a newly married couple. It may be thought necessary for 
the brida^pair to keep awake during the wedding night. Some 
of the tribes of Dutch Borneo believe that if the couple slept at 
this time evil spirits would make them ill or they would have 
unlucky dreams. 178 In one district of Morocco "if the bride re- 
mains long alone before the bridegroom enters the room so that 
she dozes and is then awakened and frightened by the noise he 
makes, she may be struck by jnun [evil spirits] and get a dis- 
torted face or lose her senses." 174 The silence which a bride must 
observe on the wedding night and the prohibition imposed on 
her of speaking to anyone but her husband for some time after 
the marriage, often until she has given birth to a child, are other 
regulations. Newly married people may also be obliged to go 
without food for a time or to abstain from eating certain kinds of 
food or to avoid eating and drinking in public. The Masai, an 
East African tribe, believe that if either bride or bridegroom eats 
anything at the wedding feast she or he will suffer from eruptions 
around the mouth. 176 

Inactivity, or at least a cessation of the normal activities, may 
be imposed upon the bridal pair, or particularly on the bride. 
Among the Nandi, another East African tribe, the bridal pair 
for a whole month are waited upon by the bridegroom's mother, 
"as it is unlawful for the bride during this period to work." 176 
Wataveta brides, for the first year of married life, "are screened 
from vulgar sight, exempted from all household duties, and pro- 
hibited from all social intercourse with all of the other sex except 
their husbands. They are never left alone, are accompanied by 
someone wherever they wish to go, and are not permitted to exert 
themselves in the least ; even in their short walks they creep at a 
snail's pace, lest they should overstrain their muscles." 177 

It is not improbable that many of the precautions and absti- 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 157 

nences imposed upon newly married couples, while now matters 
of nuptial etiquette, with a purely social sanction for their ob- 
servance, were at one time genuine taboos. In some instances, as 
in those just cited, bride and bridegroom, like boys and girls at 
puberty and women during pregnancy and parturition, are re- 
garded as being especially susceptible to evil influences or to the 
assaults of evil spirits. The restrictions which the couple observe 
under such circumstances are intended to avert or neutralize an 
anticipated danger or to remove a supposed uncleanness. 

NOTES TO CHAPTER IV 

1 Among the Bechuana of South Africa a man who has a seminal emission 
in his sleep becomes ceremonially unclean and must bathe his whole body, "by 
no means a daily habit," before association with his fellows (W. C. Willoughby, 
Nature Worship and Taboo [Hartford, Conn., 1932], p. 127). Similarly, the 
Nandi of East Africa apply the term "dirty," equivalent to taboo, to a man who 
has had an involuntary seminal emission (A. C. Hollis, The Nandi [Oxford, 
1909], p. 92). The Berbers and Moors of Morocco do not allow a holy place, 
a mosque, or a shrine to be entered by a man defiled by a pollution until he has 
washed himself. "Should he do so he would suffer some misfortune; he would 
get blind, or lame, or mad, or he or some member of his family would become 
ill or die, or he would lose some of his animals, or his corn-crop would be bad" 
(Edward Westermarck, Marriage Ceremonies in Morocco [London, 1914], pp. 
334 f.). 

2 Taboos sometimes relate to the performance of the sexual act. The Ainu 
think that a woman should not move, ever so slightly, during coitus. If she 
does so, her husband will meet with misfortune and will die a poor man (B. H. 
Chamberlain, Ainu Folk-Tales [London, 1888], p. 55). Some Semang of Malaya 
forbid a man to have intercourse with his wife in the daytime ; to do so would 
be displeasing to Tapern, who seems to be a deified tribal ancestor (I. H. N. 
Evans, The Negritos of Malaya [Cambridge, 1937], pp. 141, 173 f.). The Akamba 
believe that if a man has connection with a woman from behind she will not con- 
ceive unless he smears himself with the contents of a goat's stomach as a puri- 
ficatory rite (C. W. Hob ley, Ethnology of A-Kamba and Other East African 
Tribes [Cambridge, 1910], p. 103). Among the neighboring Akikuyu this method 
of cohabitation entails a very serious pollution for both parties (idem, Bantu 
Beliefs and Magic [London, 1922], p. 110). Among the Lango, a Nilotic tribe 
of Uganda, coitus is only permitted within a house and at night (J. H. Driberg, 
The Lango [London, 1923], p. 161). It is taboo (tschina) for couples in Loango 
to have intercourse outside the house; this may take place only behind closed 
doors, not on the earth but on a couch, not during the day, and not if other 
people are in the room (E. Pechuel-Loesche, "Indiscretes aus Loango," Zeit- 
schrift fur Ethnologie, X [1878], 26). The Edo forbid copulation on the ground. 
One who does so must sacrifice a goat to the Earth Mother (P. A. Talbot, The 
Peoples of Southern Nigeria [Oxford, 1926], III, 713). The same rule prevails 
among the Ibo and, indeed, throughout almost the entire Niger Delta (idem, 
Some Nigerian Fertility Cults [Oxford, 1927], pp. 32 f., 124). At Fez in Morocco 
sexual intercourse is avoided in moonlight, for a child conceived in such circum- 
stances would have ringworm (Westermarck, Ritual and Belief in Morocco 
[London, 1926], I, 128). 



158 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

8 G. Landtman, The Kiwai Papuans of British New Guinea (London, 1927), 
p. 224. 

* George Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians (London, 1910), p. 274. 

5 A. B. Deacon, Malekula, a Vanishing People in the New Hebrides (Lon- 
don, 1934), p. 170. 

6 C. B. Humphreys, 'The Southern New Hebrides (Cambridge, 1926), p. 174. 

7 Willoughby, op. cit., p. 126. 

8 H. A. Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed., London, 1927), 
I, 188 f. 

9 I. Schapera, Married Life in an African Tribe (London, 1940), pp. 194- ff. 
The condition of "hotness" here described would seem to be equivalent to the 
state of taboo. 

10 Henry Callaway, The Religious System of the Amasulu (London, 1870), 
p. 441. 

11 Margaret Read, "The Moral Code of the Ngoni and Their Former Mili- 
tary State," Africa, XI (1938), 13. 

12 Ibid., p. 21 and note 5. 
18 Hollis, op. cit. f p. 92. 

14 C. Dundas, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute t XLV 
(1915), 274, with special reference to the Akamba, Akikuyu, and Atheraka. 

15 E. Pecheiil-Loesche, "Indiscretes aus Loango," Zeitschrift fur Ethnologic, 
X (1878), 30 f. 

16 Talbot, Peoples of Southern Nigeria, III, 739. 

1T James Adair, History of the American Indians (London, 1775), p. 125. 

18 F. Boas, in Thirty-fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Eth- 
nology, p. 719. 

19 Sir Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, The Northern Tribes of Central 
Australia (London, 1904), pp. 293, 295. 

20 C. G. Seligman, in Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition 
to Torres Straits, V, 271. 

21 George Turner, Samoa (London, 1884), pp. 349 f., from information sup- 
plied by a native pastor. 

22 K. Landtman, "The Magic of the Kiwai Papuans in Warfare," Journal 
of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLVI (1916), 323. 

28 C. G. Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea (Cambridge, 
1910), p. 140. 

24 W. E. Armstrong, Rossel Island (Cambridge, 1928), p. 20. 

25 Bronislaw Malinowski, Coral Gardens and Their Magic (London, 1935), 
I, 119. Sexual intercourse in or close to the plantations is also prohibited (he. 
cit.). 

28 Idem, The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western Melanesia (New 
York, 1929), p. 492. An individual transgressor of the war taboos is also pun- 
ished. "Should he indulge in intercourse, a hostile spear would pierce his penis 
or his testicles. Should he sleep nose to nose with his sweetheart, he would be 
hit on the nose or thereabouts. Were he to sit even on the same mat with a 
girl, his buttocks would not be safe from attack" (foe. cit.). 

H. I. Hogbin, in Oceania, V (1934-1935), 330 f. The ritual incision of 
the penis, to let "bad blood" out, is also practiced by the Mountain Arapesh 
of British New Guinea, who, in addition, insert small sharp twigs in the urethra. 
The practice is begun before adolescence by small boys imitating older boys and 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 159 

is continued at set periods throughout life. As in Wogeo, it is essentially a puri- 
ficatory rite in pidgin English, "washwash." See Margaret Mead, in Anthro- 
pological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, XXXVII, 346 ff . 

28 R. Parkinson, Dreissig Jahre in der Siidsee (Stuttgart, 1907), p. 395. 

29 Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians f pp. 154, 274. 
o J. J. Atkinson, in Folk-Lore, XIV (1903), 256. 

81 G. H. von Langsdorff, Bemerkungen auf einer Reise um die Welt (Frank- 
furt a. Main, 1812), I, 132. 

32 Frederic Lutke, Voyage autour du monde (Paris, 1835-1836), III, 168 f. 

88 M. Girschner, in Baessler-Archiv, II (1912), 185. The offender is sup- 
posed to be speared by the war-god Rasim, who has a particular aversion toward 
women. 

3 * W. H. Furness, The Island of Stone Money (Philadelphia, 1910), pp. 38 f. 

88 J. G. Riedel, in Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, XVII (1885), 68. 

86 W. W. Skeat, Malay Magic (London, 1900), p. 524. On the coast of 
Selangor fishermen observe continence for seven days (p. 315). 

87 John Anderson, Mandalay to Momien (London, 1876), p. 138. 

88 T. C. Hodson, "The 'Genna' amongst the Tribes of Assam," Journal of 
the Anthropological Institute, XXXVI (1906), 94, 100. See also idem, "Head- 
Hunting among the Hill Tribes of Assam," Folk-Lore, XX (1909), 142. 

8 J. P. Mills, The Lhota Nagas (London, 1922), p. 41. 

40 Callaway, Religious System of the Amasulu, pp. 437 f. 

Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed.), I, 189; II, 357 ff. 

42 E. W. Smith and A. M. Dale, The Ila-speaking Peoples of Northern 
Rhodesia (London, 1921), II, 44. 

48 Ibid., I, 206 f. 

44 Willoughby, Nature-Worship and Taboo, pp. 126 f. 

48 D. R. MacKenzie, The Spirit-ridden Konde (London, 1925), p. 103. 

40 W. E. H. Barrett, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute , 
XLI (1911), 22. 

47 Ibid. f p. 31. 

48 A. C. Hollis, ibid., XLIV (1910), 481. 
4 H. R. Tate, ibid., XXXIV (1904), 261. 

80 John Roscoe, The Northern Bantu (Cambridge, 1915), p. 75. 

81 J. H. Weeks, Among the Primitive Bakongo (London, 1914), p. 252. 

82 E. E. Evans-Pritchard, IVitchcraft, Oracles, and Magic among the Asande 
(Oxford, 1937), pp. 260, 271 f. 

88 J. B. Labat, Relation historique de I'Ethiopie occidental (Paris, 1732), 
I, 259 f. Cf. W. Winwood Reade, In Savage Africa (New York, 1864), p. 288. 

84 Gunter Tessmann, Die Pangwe (Berlin, 1913), I, 225. The fear of bring- 
ing anything of a sexual character into connection with the pure fire of the 
smithy is so extreme that those workmen whose wives menstruate while the 
smelting is going on must purify themselves (I, 226). 

88 A. Poupon, in L'Anthropologie, XXVI (1915), 133. 

86 Talbot; Some Nigerian Fertility Cults, pp. 121 ff. The taboo in question 
is said to have been imposed by the direct command of the Earth Mother. It 
prevails while the people are living on their plantations, but not when they are 
in the towns. Throughout this part of Nigeria it is regarded as a grave sin 
against the Earth Mother for the women to yield to the embraces of any man, 



160 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

whether lover or husband, while lying on the ground. The sin is of yet deeper 
dye if committed on farm land than in the depth of the bush, and in the old days 
a couple convicted of such an offense would have been promptly put to death by 
their outraged townsfolk. There is a special procedure for converting a "bush" 
place, where cohabitation is not allowed, into a village where it can take place 
with impunity (Talbot, loc. cit.). 

67 Idem, Life in Southern Nigeria (London, 1923), p. 223. 

88 J. R. Wilson-Heffenden, The Red Men of Nigeria (London, 1930), pp. 
176, 179 f. 

59 M. W. Sterling, in Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, l^o. 
117, pp. 83, 87. 

60 Carl Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico (London, 1903), II. 129. 

61 Ruth L. Bunzel, "Introduction to Zufii Ceremonialism," Forty-seventh 
Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, p. 503 and note 32. 

62 Adair, History of the American Indians, p. 163. 

68 Stephen Powers, Tribes of California (Contributions to North American 
Ethnology, Vol. Ill), (Washington, D.C., 1877), p. 31. 

6 * G. M. Sproat, Scenes and Studies of Savage Life (London, 1868), p. 227. 

See Sir J. G. Frazer, Psyche's Task (2d ed., London, 1913), pp. 44-110. 
This work was reissued in 1927 under the title of The Devil's Advocate. 

68 W. E. Roth, Ethnological Studies among the North-We >st-Central Queens- 
land Aborigines (Brisbane, 1897), p. 160 ; idem, North Queensland Ethnography, 
Bulletin, No. 5, p. 22. 

67 Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians, p. 241. 

68 W. G. Ivens, Melanesians of the South-East Solomon Islands (London, 
1927), p. 251; idem, The Island Builders of the Pacific (London, 1930), p. 110. 

6 A. B. Brewster, The Hill Tribes of Fiji (London, 1922), p. 198. In the 
Lau Archipelago a difficult birth or subsequent complications are believed to be 
the result of broken taboos on the part of the mother or the father. It is usually 
assumed by the men of the husband's clan that his wife has committed adultery. 
Instead of consolation, therefore, she receives nothing but reproaches from her 
husband's male relatives. The women, on the other hand, sympathize with her, 
for they all agree that adultery does not influence the process of birth (Laura 
Thompson, Fijian Frontier [New York, 1940], p. 31). 

70 H. I. Hogbin, Law and Order in Polynesia (London, 1934), pp. 153f.; 
see also 164 f . In one case Dr. Hogbin found that the death of a man whose wife 
had been unfaithful to him was attributed to the kipua. They had killed him "to 
spare him the disgrace of becoming a laughing-stock on account of the conduct 
of his wife" (p. 158). 

71 Von Langsdorff, Bemerkungen auf einer Reise um die Welt, I, 132. 

7 * Richard Taylor, Te Ika A Maui (2d ed., London, 1870), p. 167. Cf. 
William Brown, New Zealand and Its Aborigines (London, 1845), p. 35. We 
are told by an excellent authority that cohabitation before marriage seldom 
occurred. If it did and the girl became pregnant, the man married her. A man 
never deserted a girl who had a child by him, even if he was married. Either 
he or his people would take the child or she could bring it up herself. But in 
any case the father generally claimed it. Rarely did a woman of high birth 
commit adultery. When this happened, she was usually put to death and in many 
instances her partner suffered the same fate. Moreover, her husband's people 
would hold a raiding party at the woman's home and could be bought off only 
by large gifts (The Old Time Maori, by Makereti [London, 1938], pp. 100, 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 161 

104 ff., 117). See also E. Best, "Maori Marriage Customs," in Transactions 
and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, XXXVI (1903), pp. 51 f. 

73 Edward Shortland, Maori Religion and Mythology (London, 1882), p. 30. 

7 * Mrs. F. E. Hewitt, "Some Sea-Dayak Tabus," Man, VIII (1908), 187. 

"A. W. Nieuwenhuis, Quer durch Borneo (Leiden, 1904-1907), I, 367. 

76 F. Mason, in Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, XXXVII (1868), 
Part II, pp. 141, 147 f. Cf. A. R. McMahon, The Karens of the Golden Cherso- 
nese (London, 1876), pp. 334 f. 

77 Thomas Shaw, in Asiatic Researches (Calcutta, 1795), IV, 73. 

78 W. C. Willoughby, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXV 
(1905), 311 ff. If the husband should be away from home and unable to return 
for this ceremony, the Wife is entitled to proceed to the ritual coitus with some 
other man. The husband cannot complain of her doing so, for it is he, not she, 
who suffers from not having had this intercourse with his wife. His plight 
is a sad one, and his chances of surviving the year are very slight. When he re- 
turns home he dares not enter his premises, for he would pollute them by his 
presence ; his very shadow, falling on one of his children, would be fatal to the 
child. It is necessary for him to undergo the same rite of purification indicated 
for a faithless wife. While this averts the worst consequences of his condition, 
there must be no sexual connection between him and his wife until the next 
tribal purification. A breach of the rule would be punished by his own death 
or by that of his wife or child. But if the wife has not completed the sexual 
part of the ceremony with another man during her husband's absence, they can 
perform it together, for in that case neither of the parties is in a state of taboo 
(Willoughby, loc. cit.). 

79 H. A. Stayt, The Bavenda (Oxford, 1931), p. 87. 

so Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed.), I, 40 f., 196 ff. The 
Pedi, on the other hand, taboo any sexual relations before marriage, while after 
marriage a woman who has had children may have intercourse with a man not 
her husband. The precautions taken by the Pedi to preserve the virginity of 
their girls do not seem to be due to any great elevation of the moral standard 
in this tribe. They have their source, apparently, in the belief "that the lochia, 
the secretion which flows after the birth of a child, and even more after a mis- 
carriage, is highly poisonous and greatly injures the man who has relations with 
a woman during the days following on it." It is understandable, therefore, that a 
young husband should be particularly anxious to be sure that his young wife is 
physically pure. See Junod, op. cit., I, 98 f ., 297 f . 

, 81 Charles Bullock, The Mashona (Cape Town and Johannesburg, [1928]), 
pp. 199 f. 

82 Idem, Mashona Laws and Customs (Salisbury, Rhodesia, 1913), p. 85. 

83 Smith and Dale, Ila-spcaking Peoples, II, 6. 

84 Cullen Gouldsbury and Hubert Sheane, The Great Plateau of Northern 
Rhodesia (London, 1911), pp. 178, 57. 

85 H. Coudenhove, "Feminism in Nyasaland," Atlantic Monthly, CXXXII 
(1923), 194. Among the Anyanja, when a man's wife dies in childbirth, he is 
often accused of having killed her by his infidelity during her pregnancy (H. S. 
Stannus, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XL [1910], 305).| 
According to another account of the Anyanja, a man caught in adultery must 
get another man to cohabit with his wife before he can return to her. He must 
pay the substitute for this service four yards of cloth or something of equal 
value ; otherwise the substitute can claim the wife and carry her off (Sir H. H. 
Johnston, British Central Africa [London, 1897], p. 415). The Achewa (Ajawa) 



162 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

believe that a husband will fall ill if he eats food into which his wife has put 
salt, either during her courses or after she has committed adultery (A. G. O. 
Hodgson, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, LXIII [1933], 129). 

86 Margaret Read, "The Moral Code of the Ngoni and Their Former Mili- 
tary State," Africa, XI (1938), 4, 17 f. 

87 MacKenzie, Spirit-ridden Konde, p. 134. 

ss A. Karasek and A. Eichhorn, in Baessler-Archiv, I (1910-1911), 188. 
8 H. Cole, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXII (1902), 318 f. 
o Gerhard Lindblom, The Akamba (Uppsala, 1920), p. 35. 
01 C. W. Hobley, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLI 
(1911), 412. 

2 Idem, Bantu Beliefs and Magic (London, 1922), pp. Ill f. 
s John Roscoe, The Baganda (London, 1911), p. 262; cf. pp. 55, 72. 
94 W. D. Hambly, The Ovimbundu of Angola (Chicago, 1934), p. 187. 
5C Delhaise, Les Warega (Congo Beige), (Brussels, 1909), p. 147. 

96 E. Torday, On the Trail of the Bushongo (London, 1925), p. 195. 

97 E. Torday and T. A. Joyce, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 
XXXVI (1906), 288. 

9 8G. C. Garidge, Wild Bush Tribes of Tropical Africa (London, 1922), 
p. 88. 

99 M. J. Field, Religion and Medicine of the Ga People (Oxford, 1937), 
p. 168. 

100 Talbot, Some Nigerian Fertility Cults, p. 123. 

101 Idem, Life in Southern Nigeria, p. 220. 

102 Idem, Peoples of Southern Nigeria, III, 712. The Abadja believe that if 
a woman, while cooking, commits adultery and does not at once confess her fault 
to her husband, she will fall sick; if she continues to be obstinately silent, she will 
die (III, 716). 

108 E. D. Vergette, Certain Marriage Customs of Some of the Tribes in the 
Protectorate of Sierra Leone (Sierra Leone, 1917), p. 8. 

104 Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico, II, 129. 

105 W. C. Bennett and R. M. Zingg, The Tarahumara (Chicago, 1935), 
p. 230. 

i R. L. Olson, The Quinault Indians (Seattle, Wash., 1936), p. 46. 

107 J. R. S wanton, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, 
VIII, 56. 

108 Ivan Petroff, Report on the Population, Industries, and Resources of 
Alaska (Washington, D.C., 1884) (Department of the Interior, Tenth Census, 
Vol. VIII), p. 155. 

i 9 Fridtjof Nansen, Eskimo Life (2d ed., London, 1894), pp. 172 f. 

no M. Rascher, in Archiv fur Anthropologie, XXIX (1904), 211. The same 
pollution results from legitimate intercourse between married people, but they 
can themselves cleanse it away. They learn how to do so at the time of their 
marriage (Rascher, loc. cit.; cf. Parkinson, Dreissig Jahre in der Siidsee, p. 179. 

in J. Kreemer, in Bijdragen tot de Taal-Land-en Volkenkunde van Neder- 
landsch-Indie, LXVI (1912), 323. 

112 G. A. Wilken, Verspreide Geschriften ('s Gravenhage, 1912), I, 591. 

113 J. Perham, in H. L. Roth, The Natives of Sarawak and British North 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 163 

Borneo (London, 1896), I, 180. See also Charles Brooke, Ten Years in Sarawak 
(London, 1886), 1,69 f. 

ll Sir Spenser St. John, Life in the Forests of the Far East (2d ed., Lon- 
don, 1863), I, 63. 

115 Nieuwenhuis, Quer durch Borneo, II, 99. 

lie Thomas Shaw, in Asiatic Researches (Calcutta, 1795), IV, 70. 

117 E. Casalis, The Basutos (London, 1861), p. 267. The Basuto never per- 
mitted defiled persons to have anything to do with harvesting the grain (p. 252). 

"8 Hollis, The Nandi, pp. 17, 76. 

119 Hobley, Bantu Beliefs and Magic, p. 253. 

o Lindblom, The Akamba, p. 149. 

121 Driberg, The Lango, p. 161. 

122 C. Wunenberger, in Les missions Catholiques, XX (1888), 262. 

"a R. E. Dennett, At the Back of the Black Man's Mind (London, 1906), 
pp. 53, 67 ff. According to an earlier authority, if an epidemic sickness prevailed 
in the land, if the rain did not come at the appointed season, or if there was a crop 
failure, the sinning couple were likely to be sacrificed by the enraged people 
(E. Pechuel-Loesche, "Indiscretes aus Loango," Zeitschrift fiir Ethnologie, X 
[1878], 26). 

12 * P. A. Talbot, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLI, 
1911, 247. 

125 Cases are known of incest being deliberately committed for some ulterior 
end. Among the Thonga a hippopotamus hunter will sometimes have sexual 
relations with his own daughter, in order to acquire magical power over the 
game. "This incestuous act, which is strongly taboo in ordinary life, has made 
him into a 'murderer' : he has killed something at home ; he has acquired the 
courage necessary for doing great deeds on the river !" (Junod, The Life of a 
South African Tribe [2d ed.], II, 68). The Mashona think that the commission 
of incest is a cure for the bite of certain deadly snakes (Bullock, Mashona, p. 316, 
note 1). The Lamba, while abominating incest, consider that its commission 
may bring good luck to an elephant hunter about to go in quest of ivory (C. M. 
Doke, "Social Control among the Lambas," Bantu Studies, II [1923-1926], 41). 
Among the Ba-ila, if a man wants very special luck, he will procure from a 
witch doctor a charm called musamba and "under the doctor's instructions he 
commits incest with his sister or daughter before starting on his undertaking. 
That is a very powerful stimulus to the talisman" (Smith and Dale, I la-speaking 
Peoples, I, 261). The Anyanja, a tribe of Nyasaland, believe that a man who 
has intercourse with his sister or his mother is thereby rendered bulletproof 
(H. S. Stannus, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XL [1910], 
307). Among the Antambahoaka of Madagascar hunters, fishers, and warriors, 
before setting out on an expedition, have sexual relations with their sisters or 
nearest female relatives. Here, again, the act of incest is supposed to make for 
success in the business at hand (A. van Gennep, Tabou et totemisme d Mada- 
gascar [Paris, 1904], pp. 342 f., on the authority of G. Ferrand. The same 
magical potency acquired by a violation of the stringent incest taboo may also 
be acquired by cannibalism. Among the Queensland tribes of Cape York Penin- 
sula the eating of human flesh is regarded as a terrible thing ; it is kunta-kunta> 
which means hard, strong, dangerous, sacred, that is, taboo. "But, by means 
of the appropriate ritual the danger may not only be averted, but it may even 
become a source of power, making a man specially brave, and giving special 
prowess in hunting" (D. F. Thomson, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological 
Institute, LXIII [1933], 511; cf. ibid. t LXIV [1934], 252). Similarly in Lepers' 



164 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Island, one of the New Hebrides, the natives think that to eat human flesh is a 
dreadful thing. One who does so is one afraid of nothing. "On this ground 
men will buy flesh when someone has been killed, that they may get the name 
of valiant men by eating it" (R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians [Oxford, 1891], 
p. 344). 

126 A. W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (London, 
1904), p. 498. According to Mr. Hewitt's informant, Kohin seems to be a "glori- 
fied and deified blackfellow" (p. 499). 

127 R. Helms, in Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 
(2d ser., 1895), X, 392. 

128 Bronislaw Malinowski, Crime and Custom in Savage Society (London, 
1926), pp. 78 ft. 

129 Hogbin, Law and Order in Polynesia, pp. 155, 158. 

180 Raymond Firth, We, the Tikopia (London, 1936), pp. 333 ff. 

181 Turner, Samoa, p. 92. 

182 Arthur Grimble, "From Birth to Death in the Gilbert Islands," Journal 
of the Royal Anthropological Institute, LI (1921), 26. 

188 Charles Hose and William McDougall, The Pagan Tribes of Borneo 
(London, 1912), II, 196 ff. The Sea Dayak require a man who wishes to marry 
his first cousin to perform a special ceremony of purification "to avert evil con- 
sequences to the land" from such a union (H. L. Roth, "Low's Natives of Bor- 
neo," Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXI [1892], 133). Hugh Low 
tells of a Hill Dayak chief who married his granddaughter, although his wife 
and the girl's mother, his own child, were still alive. People complained that 
since this incest had been committed "no bright day had blessed their territory ; 
but that rain and darkness alone prevailed, and that unless the plague-spot were 
removed, the tribe would soon be ruined" (Sarawak [London, 1848], pp. 300 f.). 

is* Owen Rutter, The Pagans of North Borneo (London, 1929), p. 141. 

i 85 G. A. Wilken, in Globus, LIX (1891), 22; M. J. van Baarda, in Bijdra- 
gen tot de Taal-Land-en Volkenkunde van Nederlandsch Indie, XLV (1895), 
514. 

IBS Fay-Cooper Cole, The Wild Tribes of the Davao District, Mindanao 
(Chicago, 1913), p. 98. 

i" P. R. T. Gurdon, The Khasis (2d ed., London, 1914), pp. 77, 94, 122 f. 

188 A. Kropf, A Kaffir-English Dictionary (Lovedale, South Africa, 1899), 
p. 46. 

189 Joseph Shooter, The Kafirs of Natal and the Zulu Country (London, 
1857), p. 45. 

1*0 A. Karasek and A. Eichhorn, in Baessler-Archiv, I (1910-1911), 186. 

1*1 Hobley, Bantu Beliefs and Magic, pp. 118f. 

i* 2 Idem, Ethnology of A-Kamba and Other East African Tribes, p. 103. 

148 John Roscoe, The Bagesu and Other Tribes of the Uganda Protectorate 
(Cambridge, 1924), p. 176. 

midem, The Bakitara or Banyoro (Cambridge, 1923), p. 67. 
i* 5 C. G. Seligman and Brenda Z. Seligman, Pagan Tribes of the Nilotic 
Sudan (London, 1932), p. 157. 

i* Dennett, At the Back of the Black Man's Mind, pp. 53, 67 ff. 

i* 7 John Gillen, The Barama River Caribs of British Guiana (Papers of 
the Peabody Museum of American Archaeology and Ethnology, Vbl. XIV, No. 
2) (Cambridge, Mass., 1936), p. 74. 



SEXUAL INTERCOURSE 165 

148 J. G. Bourke, The Snake Dance of the Moquis of Arizona (New York, 
1884), p. 279. 

149 F. P. von Wrangell, Statistische und ethnographische Nachrichten iiber 
die russischen Besitzungen an der Nordwestkuste von Amerika (Beitrdge zur 
Kenntniss des russischen Reiches und angrdnzenden Lander Asiens, Vol. I) (St. 
Petersburg, 1839), pp. 104 f. 

150 Petroff, Report on the Population, Industries, and Resources of Alaska, 
p. 155. 

151 On avoidance, in general, see Frazer, Psyche's Task (2d ed.), pp. 75-96; 
Westermarck, History of Human Marriage (5th ed.), I, 439-54; W. G. Sumner 
and A. G. Keller, The Science of Society (New Haven, 1927), III, 2015-23 and 
IV, 1149-55 ; Richard Thurnwald, "Meidung," in Ebert's Reallexikon der Vorge- 
schichte, VIII, 121-31. 

182 Joseph Parker, in R. B. Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria (Melbourne, 
1878), II, 156. Cf. George Taplin, in J. D. Woods (ed.), The Native Tribes of 
South Australia (Adelaide, 1879), pp. 32 ff. 

15S Howitt, Native Tribes of South-East Australia, pp. 199, 256 f. Among 
the Wurunjerri, when a woman's son-in-law sent a present of game to her hus- 
band, she would rub charcoal over her face, especially over her mouth, and then 
she could safely eat this food (p. 257). 

1B * Sir Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, The Native Tribes of Central Aus- 
tralia (London, 1899), p. 469. 

188 C. Keysser, in R. Neuhauss, Deutsch Neu-Guinea (Berlin, 1911), III, 46. 

150 I. H. N. Evans, Among the Primitive Peoples in Borneo (London, 1921), 
p. 168. 

157 W. Crooke, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXVIII (1899), 
238. 

188 S. C. Roy, The Birhors (Ranchi, 1925), p. 137. 

159 Smith and Dale, Ila-speaking Peoples, I, 368. 

16 F. H. Melland, In Witch-bound Africa (London, 1923), p. 83. 

161 Bullock, Mashona Laws and Customs, p. 21 ; idem, The Mashona, p. 261. 

162 MacKenzie, The Spirit-ridden Konde, pp. 107 f. 

163 Roscoe, The Baganda, 128 f. 

16 * M. A. Condon, in Anthropos, VI (1911), 377 f. 

168 Brasseur de Bourbourg, Histoire des nations civilisees du Mexique et de 
I'Awerique-Centrale (Paris, 1857-1859), II, 52 f. 

166 Bourke, Snake Dance of the Moquis of Arizona, p. 247. We are told, 
however, that a Navaho may marry his (prospective) mother-in-law first and 
then her daughter, thus making both women his wives and avoiding the taboo 
(L. Ostermann, in Anthropos, III [1908], 862). 

167 R. Karsten, Contributions to the Sociology of the Indian Tribes of Ecua- 
dor (Acta Academic Aboensis, Humaniora, I, No. 3) (Abo, 1920), pp. 69, 72 f. 

168 F. S. Clavigero, The History of Mexico (2d ed., London, 1807), I, 320 f. 

169 Margaret Mead, in Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of 
Natural History, XXXVII, 344. For a description of the ceremony see p. 348. 

170 J. M. Cooper, in Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 63, 
p. 157. 

171 J. Teit, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, II, 
326. 

172 Urey Lisiansky, A Voyage Round the World (London, 1814), p. 199. 



166 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

178 M. T. H. Perelaer, Ethnographische beschrijving der Dajaks (Zalt-Bom- 
mel, 1870), p. 53. In Java the couple about to be married must not sleep during 
the night preceding the wedding lest some grave misfortune befall them 
(R. Schmidt, Liebe und Ehe im alien und modernen Indien [Berlin, 1904], 
p. 422). 

17 * Westermarck, Marriage Ceremonies in Morocco, p. 237. 

M. Merker, Die Masai (Berlin, 1904), p. 48. 

Hollis, The Nandi, p. 64. 

177 Charles New, Life, Wanderings, and Labours in Eastern Africa (London, 
1873), p. 360. 



CHAPTER V 
DEATH AND THE DEAD 



SOME very rude peoples, for instance, the Central Australians, do 
not recognize the possibility of natural death, while other rude 
peoples, for instance, the Andaman Islanders, account for all sud- 
den deaths by demonic agency. In the lower culture, generally, 
death is very seldom considered to be necessary and inevitable, 
except perhaps when a man dies in battle, by the open violence of 
a fellow tribesman, or as the result of a quite obvious accident. 
Sickness and death following sickness are almost always ascribed 
to non-natural causes, especially sorcery practiced by some human 
enemy. It is sometimes thought that a man's death is due to the 
escape of his soul, which has a propensity for wandering away 
from the body, with disastrous results to its owner. And as we 
have seen, death is often believed to be the irremediable, ineluc- 
table consequence of a broken taboo. 

Nor are these the only explanations offered. It is a common 
idea that the ghost of one who has died, particularly one who 
came to his end in an untimely manner, is malignant and is likely 
to avenge himself upon the survivors by making them die too. 
Often, again, a man's death is attributed to an evil spirit which 
entered his body and, having killed him, is supposed to lurk about 
him^or in the neighborhood, seeking other victims as well. It is 
impossible sharply to distinguish animistic conceptions of this na- 
ture from the vaguer conception of death as a sort of miasma, or 
atmospheric poison, spreading a fatal influence far and wide. 
The belief in the pollution of death seems to be, essentially, a 
simple conclusion drawn from the experience (as in pestilences) 
that when one person has died other persons are likely to die also. 
Such beliefs have been confirmed and strengthened as the result 
of the emotional reactions produced by the phenomena of death : 
dread of the corpse as a strange, uncanny object; disgust at the 
corruption of the flesh ; and fright, or at least uneasiness, at the 
sudden, unwelcome reminder of our common mortality. 1 

In order to safeguard the living against the dangerous ghost 

167 



168 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

or the pollution of death, persons dangerously ill are often iso- 
lated, or left untended, or removed from the dwelling and taken 
out of doors to breathe their last. Sometimes they are buried or 
otherwise disposed of while the spark of life still glows fitfully 
within them. 

The Yerkla-mining of South Australia, who never bury their 
dead or dispose of them in any way, leave a dying person alone, 
but as comfortable as possible and . near a fire. Then the entire 
tribe quits the neighborhood and does not return to it for a con- 
siderable length of time. 2 In the New Hebrides persons so ill as 
to be delirious were buried alive. 8 

When a Maori became ill he was not allowed to remain in a 
dwelling house but was taken outside the village and placed in a 
temporary shed erected in the bush. If anyone died in a house 
it became tapu and could not be used again. Great inconvenience 
would have been the result, for some houses were the common 
abode of perhaps thirty or forty persons. 4 The Mangyan of 
Mindoro abandon a sick person as soon as his condition becomes 
serious. After a time they steal back to learn whether he is still 
alive or dead; if by any chance recovery has begun, they do what 
they can to help the patient 5 Among the Serrano of Luzon, when 
a sick person does not show signs of recovery, he is taken from his 
bed and laid upon a hide on the ground outside the house. A 
child stays by to fan him and keep off the flies. Only water is 
given him until death takes place. 8 

The Singhalese, fearful lest a person dangerously ill may die 
and thus pollute the house where he lies, remove him to an ad- 
joining temporary building. 7 Among the Tanala of Madagascar 
people who fall sick and become unconscious are placed in that 
part of the forest where the dead are thrown. Should they revive 
and return to the village, the people stone them to death. 8 Among 
the Basuto a sick person, obviously approaching his end, is taken 
out of the hut if it is possible to remove him without causing his 
instant death. 9 The Masai, an East African tribe, take every care 
to prevent a death from occurring in a village. As soon as a young 
or middle-aged person shows signs of approaching demise, the 
sufferer is hastily carried out into the bush and left to die there. 10 
The Ho of Togoland abandon a dying man, for they fear lest 
his eyes fasten on them and his ghost molest or even kill them. 11 
The Lengua Indians of Paraguay remove a dying person from 
the village and leave him alone to breathe his last. "No kindly 
word is spoken to him, no friendly hand holds his, though he is still 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 169 

living, still conscious. Oftentimes he suffers the agonies of thirst, 
but no one attends to his needs. And yet these Indians are not 
unfriendly; they grieve for their dying friend; they will miss him 
and mourn his loss; but their cruel belief overcomes all natural 
feelings." 12 Among the Itonama of Bolivia, when the relatives 
of a sick man believe that his end is near, they try to close as 
tightly as possible his nose, mouth, and eyes, so that the death 
contagion will not be communicated to someone else. As a result 
of this precaution, very sick people are suffocated. 18 The Nica- 
ragua Indians abandon a sick man whom they consider certain 
to die. Since they leave with him neither food nor drink, he does 
soon die. 14 It is customary among the Navaho Indians for a 
dead man's hut to be burned and its site abandoned. When, for 
any reason, this is not done, a person dangerously sick and likely 
to die will be taken out to some lonely spot, brush will be piled 
about him as a protection against wild animals, and there he will 
be left unattended until death puts an end to his suffering. Some- 
times, however, food is brought to him. 15 

Among the Northern Maidu of California a person who had 
been long sick was sometimes tied up, in a squatting position, 
in a bearskin and was buried before death. 18 If the Makah, a 
Washington tribe, are convinced that a patient cannot recover, 
it is customary to turn him out of doors to die. Particularly will 
this be done when he is suffering from an ailment which they do 
not understand. If he were to die in the house, all the other 
inmates would perish of the same disease. 17 Among the Central 
Eskimo, if a person dies in a dwelling among its inmates, every- 
thing in the hut must be destroyed or thrown away. To avoid 
doing so, they build a small snow house or hut, according to the 
season, and carry into it a man believed to be fatally ill. Some 
food is left with him, but he has no attendants. As long as there 
is no fear of his sudden demise, his relatives and friends may visit 
him, but when death impends the house or hut is shut up and he 
is left alone. 18 

While some primitive peoples manifest little or no repugnance 
in the presence of the dead and while others eat their dead, either 
to satisfy the claims of hunger or to acquire the qualities of the 
deceased, the usual attitude toward a corpse is one of loathing and 
terror comparable to that exhibited toward a parturient or a men- 
struous woman. 

The aborigines of Victoria think that a corpse should not be 
brought into contact with human hands or with the earth. 19 The 



170 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Koita, a Papuan tribe, have a special term (aina) to indicate the 
contagious and highly dangerous quality of a corpse. 20 

In the Trobriand Islands the maternal kinsmen of the de- 
ceased must keep away from the corpse. Were they to touch it 
or even to come near it, they would themselves fall ill and die. 
The pernicious influence of a corpse is conceived materially as 
something which pollutes the air. The name of this exhalation 
or essence is bwaulo, a word which also describes the cloud of 
smoke surrounding a village, especially on calm, hot days. 21 "A 
Fijian, having defiled himself by contact with the corpse of a per- 
son who died a natural death, is not allowed to touch food with 
his hands for several days. 22 The natives of the Lau Archipelago 
believe that the odor of a dead body may cause three kinds of 
ailments, these being leprosy, external sores with a bad smell, and 
internal sores. To protect mourners from becoming thus affected 
a corpse is usually buried within three hours of death. 28 

In Samoa, while a dead body is in the house, no food may be 
eaten there; hence the family take their meals outside or in an- 
other house. Those who attended the deceased are most careful 
not to handle their food, but are fed for several days "as if they 
were helpless infants." Baldness and loss of teeth are the pen- 
alties anticipated for violation of this rule. 24 In the Tonga Islands, 
when a corpse was being taken to the burying ground, all persons 
in the roadway or the adjacent fields were obliged to keep out of 
sight under pain of becoming tabooed. Those who showed them- 
selves at such a time were killed on the spot. 25 To the Maori "the 
remains of the dead and of all connected therewith were (and are) 
highly tapu; and such places as wahi-tapu (burial grounds) .... 
are not lightly to be approached. The association of food, par- 
ticularly cooked food, with anything tapu is most objectionable 
in Maori eyes." 26 

With reference to the Manobo of Mindanao, we are told that 
the utter fear of the person of a dead man and of his soul is one 
of the most marked features of their culture. "In the death- 
chamber and hovering around the resting-place of the dead there 
is a certain noxious influence by the infection of which one is 
liable to become an object of attraction to the dark-visaged, hun- 
gry, soul-ghouls that, lured by the odor, stalk to the death-house 
and await an opportunity to secure a victim." 27 

In Madagascar the taboos connected with death and funeral 
ceremonies are very numerous. Death is so polluting that all 
persons in contact with the corpse, even those who merely assist 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 171 

at the obsequies, become contaminated. The pot in which water was 
heated to bathe the corpse, the mattress on which the corpse was 
placed, the litter used to convey the corpse to the grave all are 
objects not to be touched. A person cannot even pass near them 
without absorbing the evil influences which emanate from them. 
They must be destroyed. Rice taken into a house where a dead 
man lies will not fructify. To go to a rice field after returning 
from a funeral will result in the rice becoming sterile. To enter a 
house where there are silkworms, after seeing a dead man, will 
cause the worms to die. If one meets a brooding hen, before being 
purified from the death pollution, the eggs will not hatch. To 
build a house upon the site of an ancient tomb is to bring disaster 
upon the occupants of the house and their offspring. 28 

Of the Basuto the missionary Casalis remarks that "death, 
with all that immediately precedes or follows it, is in the eyes of 
these people the greatest of all defilements. Thus the sick, per- 
sons who have touched or buried a corpse, or who have dug the 
grave, individuals who inadvertently walk over or sit upon a grave, 
the near relatives of a person deceased, murderers, warriors who 
have killed their enemies in battle, are considered impure." The 
extreme haste with which interments take place frequently results 
in persons being buried alive. "Ignorant old women, overcome 
by superstitious fears, run away at the sight of convulsions or a 
fainting fit, crying, 'It is all over, he is dead !' and without further 
examination the patient is smothered up in skins, and soon dies 
of suffocation. 1 ' 29 The Bechuana entertain very pronounced ideas 
as to the uncleanness of a corpse or of anything connected with 
death ; hence those who have touched a dead body or dug a grave 
wash themselves or expose themselves to the smoke of a purifica- 
tory fire. 80 The Rwala Bedouin carefully avoid a dead body. 81 

The Bribri Indians of Costa Rica denote by the word nya, 
"filthy," the ceremonial uncleanness connected with death. All 
objects that have been in contact with a corpse must either be 
thrown away, or destroyed, or purified by a medicine man. 82 The 
Makah Indians of Washington believe that it is very bad luck to 
look on the dead. Hence a corpse must be covered from sight at 
once. No sooner has a person breathed his last than he is se- 
curely rolled up in blankets, firmly bound with ropes, and boxed. 
The practice probably leads to murder, since if a person is not 
really dead they take good care to insure that he will be shortly. 88 
The Quinault Indians believe that were a person to eat any- 
thing while passing by a grave his mouth would grow awry and 



172 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

remain henceforth in this uncomfortable position. 84 The Clallam 
and Twana do not like to have their children go near the dead, 
for children are more susceptible to evil influences than are adults. 35 

The Labrador Eskimo "have little fear of death itself, which 
the hunter braves many times a day on the shifting ice, nor do 
they express any particular emotion in putting an animal to death, 
or killing a man, for that matter. But they do have a superstitious 
fear of a corpse, owing to the malignant influence which it is sup- 
posed to exert, and are very much afraid of ghosts. They will 
never pass by one of their burying places at night .... It is a 
great misfortune to have any one die unexpectedly in the house, 
as it contaminates everything in it. When an inmate is near his 
end, you will see his housemates removing all the household furni- 
ture and weapons." 86 The Greenlanders throw out of the house 
all the belongings of a dead man, lest these should pollute the sur- 
vivors and bring them misfortune. All the movables in the house 
are likewise taken outside until evening, when the smell of the 
corpse has passed away. 87 The Central Eskimo allow only the rela- 
tives of the deceased to touch his body. 88 The Bering Strait Eskimo 
are very averse to having a dead body in the house. This repug- 
nance is so strong that the relatives of a dying man frequently dress 
him in his grave clothes, in order that he may be placed in the 
grave box and removed immediately after death has occurred. 89 

The Chukchi of northeastern Siberia will not touch a dead 
body with bare hands. 40 Among the Yakut the remains of a de- 
ceased person, wherever buried, inspire great fear. They cause 
major interferences with nature, "arousing winds, blizzards, and 
bad weather. The remains of a shaman produce all these phe- 
nomena in a very extraordinary degree." 41 

There are many primitive peoples who abandon, either tem- 
porarily or permanently, a place where a death has occurred. The 
custom seems to be common, if not universal, among the Aus- 
tralian aborigines. The Arunta burn the man's camp or the wom- 
an's camp, according to the sex of the deceased, and then seek a 
new site for the local group. 42 In the Mara tribe of northern 
Australia "as soon as anyone dies, the camps are immediately 
shifted, because the spirit, of whom they are frightened, haunts 
its old camping ground." 48 The natives of Queensland, who have 
the same custom, nick the trees where one of their number died 
to show that a death occurred on the spot. 44 

The Kenakagara, a Papuan tribe near Port Moresby, always 
remove to a new village when a number of deaths have taken 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 173 

place in their midst. 45 The inhabitants of a Keraki village also 
migrate but only temporarily after a death. 46 When a Maori 
chief was buried in a village it became tapu, and no one, on pain 
of death, was permitted to go near it. 47 

Among the Dusun of British North Borneo the death of a 
person in a newly built village, within six months of its completion, 
will result in its abandonment. 48 The Sakai of Perak in the Malay 
Peninsula invariably burn down the house where a death has 
occurred and forsake their settlement, even though they must 
sacrifice a crop of tapioca or sugar cane. 49 Among the Mantra of 
Malacca, should a death occur in a clearing, nothing more is 
planted there. After the crop on the ground has been gathered, 
they abandon the clearing. 60 

The Andaman Islanders think that the spirit of a dead man 
haunts not only his burial place but also the encampment where 
he died. They abandon it after the return of the funeral party 
and move to a new camping ground. 61 The Nicobar Islanders 
desert a settlement where a death has occurred and return to it 
only for the purpose of gathering the ripened produce of the plan- 
tations. 62 

The wilder Vedda of Ceylon leave the corpse of a man or 
woman in the cave or rock shelter where death occurred. The 
site is then quickly abandoned by the community and will be 
avoided for a long time. "When an attempt is made to discover 
the nature of the noxious influence felt in the place of death, the 
usual answer given is to the effect that 'if we stayed where the 
death had occurred we should be pelted with stones'." In many 
instances there seems to be no definite idea that the dead man is 
the active agent in the stone-throwing, although some natives be- 
lieve that his ghost is responsible for such disturbances. 68 

The Sakalava of Madagascar always break up their settlement 
after a death in it and remove to a distance. "This perpetual flee- 
ing before death of course prevents the population from becom- 
ing settled in its habits, and produces a most unsubstantial style 
of house-building/' 54 

After the headman of a Thonga kraal dies it will be abandoned, 
but only when the whole year of mourning for him has elapsed. 
After a commoner's death his hut is thrown into the bush, though 
the village is not abandoned. "But should these deaths increase, 
then the divinatory bones may order the place to be deserted, as it is 
defiled and dangerous." 65 

The Masai take every precaution to prevent a young or a 



174 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

middle-aged person from dying in the village. As soon as signs 
of approaching dissolution are shown, such a person is hastily 
carried into the bush and left there to breathe his last. If by 
some mischance he dies in the village, it is moved as soon as 
possible. Very old men and women are allowed to die peacefully 
in the village, but the hut where the death occurred must be left 
to fall into ruin and the village must be moved about a month after 
the funeral ceremony. 08 The Akamba do not shift their village to 
a new site after a death has occurred in it, but the villagers must 
be purified. This is done by an old man specially versed in such 
matters. He slaughters a goat, removes the contents of its small 
stomach, and mixes these in a calabash with certain plants. The 
villagers sit in a circle about the celebrant, who sprinkles them with 
the mixture. The walls of the house where the death occurred 
and the bed on which the dead person lay are also sprinkled. Un- 
til this ceremony has been performed there must be no sexual 
intercourse in the village. 57 

The Bahima, a pastoral people of Uganda, bury commoners 
in the dung heap of the kraal. They then abandon the place and 
build a new kraal some distance away. 58 The Banyankole of 
Uganda also remove to a new kraal after the mourning period is 
over. With them mourning lasts for three or four years. 59 The 
Wawamba bury a dead man in his house, which is thereupon aban- 
doned. When a chief dies, the village is generally deserted. 60 The 
Ogowe desert a settlement after the death in it of a prominent 
man, especially a chief. The houses are left to fall into ruins or 
are burned. 61 

The Indians of the Paraguayan Chaco shift their camps after 
a death. 62 With the Anabali and other Orinoco tribes it was for- 
merly the custom, when anyone died, to bury him in the place 
where he had his hearth. They would then forsake the village 
and all their fields, and build anew at a distance of a dozen leagues 
or more. They said that after death had once entered their village 
they could no longer live in security. When these tribes subse- 
quently advanced to a more settled life, they contented themselves 
with breaking up the house of a deceased person and burning 
everything which he possessed. 63 The Sumu Indians of the Mos- 
quito Coast carried the moribund into the bush and let them die 
there. If they died in the settlement, this had to be abandoned. 6 * 
The Cree Indians of Canada, when a death has occurred, shift 
their camp for several miles. 65 

Abandonment or destruction of the dwelling in which a death 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 175 

has occurred is a widespread custom. Some aborigines of Vic- 
toria pulled down the rude hut of the deceased and frequently 
burned it, because no one would inhabit the spot where a death 
had taken place. 66 Among the Southern Massim of British 
New Guinea the house in which a married man or woman had 
died is often allowed to decay or is destroyed, either immediately 
after the person's death or upon the decease of the surviving part- 
ner. 67 The Keraki do not abandon a house where someone has 
died if it is a new house and in good order. But an old house 
will be left empty for perhaps a year after the occupant's death 
and then will be ceremonially destroyed. 68 The Kai, another Pap- 
uan tribe, desert the house in which anybody has died. If the 
deceased was a chief or a man of importance, the whole village is 
abandoned and a new one built elsewhere. 69 

In New Zealand in almost every pa, or fortified settlement, 
"nearly half the houses belonged to the dead." When the owner 
died, he was buried in his house, which was then deserted with all 
it contained. No one ever entered it again, for the red paint on 
the door showed that it was tapu. 'These abandoned houses, 
being in every stage of decay, gave a very unsightly appearance 
to the />a." 70 In the Marshall Islands the hut of a deceased chief 
is abandoned and allowed to fall into decay. 71 

Among the Land Dayak of Borneo, who build large com- 
munal houses, the apartment of a family in which a death occurs 
is tabooed for seven days and nights. 72 When a death occurs 
among the Mangy an of Mindoro they flee at once, leaving every- 
thing in the house undisturbed and closing all paths to it with 
brush. The relatives of the deceased then hide in the jungle and 
change their names. 78 The Ainu assert that in former times it 
was their custom to burn down the family hut when the oldest 
woman of a family died, for they feared the ghost would return 
and bring evil upon them. Nowadays the woman, when getting 
very old and likely to die soon, has a tiny hut to herself. This is 
burnt after her demise. 74 

The Hottentots abandon the hut in which a death has oc- 
curred and leave its contents untouched. 76 Among the Basuto no 
one may occupy a hut in which a death has taken place. 76 Among 
the Mashona a widower abandons the hut in which his wife died. 
A widow continues to live in the hut where her husband died, 
but it must first be purified by the doctor. 77 The Chinyai bury a 
corpse under the floor of the house, which is then closed up and 
abandoned. When a chief dies, the whole village will be deserted. 78 



176 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

The Barotse, a people akin to the Zulu, almost always abandon the 
hut of a deceased person. 79 

Among the Ngoni (Angoni) of Northern Rhodesia the hut 
where a death occurred is never used again and is allowed to fall 
into decay. The natives say that they observe this custom so that 
the man's ghost may return to his former haunts. 80 Among the 
Akikuyu, when a stranger comes to a village and dies in a hut 
there, the hut, with all it contains, is completely abandoned, if the 
owner belongs to the Kikuyu section of the tribe. If he belongs 
to the Masai section, the hut is abandoned only until the death 
pollution has been ceremonially removed. The Akikuyu also 
require a new hut to be immediately demolished should the own- 
er's wife find herself menstruating on the day she lights the first 
fire in it. This custom applies to both sections of the tribe. 81 The 
Basoga of Uganda never occupy a hut where a death has oc- 
curred. 82 The Bavuma, a people allied to the Basoga, destroy the 
hut where a death has occurred. 83 

The Bangala of the Upper Congo bury a man in his house. 
It is then deserted. If he owned several houses (one for each wife 
he possessed) all of them would be destroyed. 84 It is customary 
with the Yoruba of the Slave Coast to close the apartment in 
which a corpse is interred. Rich families even abandon the house 
altogether. In former days the house was burned. 85 

Among the Fuegians the hut where a native has died is usually 
burned and the place where it stood is abandoned for a long time 
by the friends of the deceased. 88 The Guiana Indians who live in 
the forest and build flimsy houses abandon the dwelling of a de- 
ceased person and never return to it. The Indians of the savannah 
build in a more substantial fashion and sometimes continue to 
occupy such a dwelling. 87 The Tarahumare Indians of Mexico, 
besides destroying the house where someone has died, break up 
the household utensils which it contained. 88 

The Cahuilla Indians of southern California burn the house 
of a deceased man, together with all his possessions. However, 
on some of the reservations many Indians have built frame houses. 
One of these would not be destroyed unless three deaths had oc- 
curred in it. 89 The Navaho burn a house where a death has oc- 
curred. No one will approach the site, even for years afterward, 
because it is believed to be haunted by the spirit of the deceased. 90 
Among the Chippewa it is usual to burn the wigwam after the 
decease of an inmate. The clothes and other personal possessions 
of the dead are often included in the holocaust. 91 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 177 

Among the Blackfeet, when a great chief or noted warrior 
died and was buried in his lodge, this would be moved some dis- 
tance from the camp and his weapons, war clothes, pipe, and med- 
icine would be placed in it. The lodge would never again be en- 
tered. 92 The Thompson Indians of British Columbia, who burned 
the summer lodge in which an adult person died, spared the more 
solid and elaborate winter house. They took care, however, to 
purify the latter with water in which tobacco and juniper had 
been soaked, before occupying it again. If two or more persons 
died in the winter house at the same time or in close succession, 
then it was invariably destroyed. 98 

Among the Eskimo of Bering Strait, if a person dies sud- 
denly of a strange or unusual disease, the occupants of the dwell- 
ing immediately desert it. 94 Yakut people who can afford the sacri- 
fice will abandon a house where a death has occurred, though they 
may come back after a time. In one part of the Yakut territory 
it was formerly the practice, when anyone had died in a house, for 
the occupants to depart hastily, leaving there the dead man with 
all the goods which had been his when alive. 95 The Kamchadal 
of Kamchatka always desert a house in which a person has died 
and remove to another dwelling some distance away. The corpse 
is cast out, to be eaten by dogs, and with it the clothes of the de- 
ceased. Anyone who wore these was believed to be in danger of 
an early death. 96 

The custom of destroying the goods and chattels of a dead 
man or of putting them into the grave with him may often be 
interpreted as a simple form of funeral sacrifice designed to sup- 
ply the ghost with all things needful for his life in the other world. 
Where ghost fear is strong, an explanation may sometimes be 
found in the desire to prevent the dead man from returning to his 
former haunts in search of what belongs to him. There can be little 
doubt, however, that dread of the death pollution is the leading 
motive here as elsewhere. In primitive thought a man's posses- 
sions are saturated with his personality. They form a part of him, 
almost as much as his hair, his saliva, his footprints, and his name, 
which are so generally employed in magical arts. To destroy a 
man's weapons, tools, ornaments, and clothing after his demise 
seems to the survivors an elementary precaution, and to make as- 
surance doubly sure not only his personal property but all objects 
even remotely associated with him are sometimes destroyed also. 
The custom, whatever its origin, will tend to be kept up as an 
expression of grief on the part of the survivors or as their tribute 



178 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

to the deceased, thus holding a place among the formal mourning 
ceremonies perhaps long after the ideas on which it was based 
have passed away. 97 

The aborigines of southeastern Australia very generally buried 
the scanty possessions of a deceased person with him. In the Wol- 
gal tribe, for instance, all his belongings were "put out of sight." 
Similarly in the Geawe-gal tribe "all the implements, the prop- 
erty of a warrior, were interred with his body, and indeed every 
piece of inanimate property he possessed." 98 The tribes of Vic- 
toria buried with the dead man all his property except his stone 
axes. These were considered too valuable to be thus disposed of 
and were inherited by the next of kin. 99 By the Wonkonguru of 
the Lake Eyre district all the personal belongings of a dead man 
are broken at his grave, "so that his spirit will not come back 
and use them" ; those of a woman, however, are not broken. 100 
This practice seems to be uncommon among the more economical 
natives of the Northern Territory of Australia, who regularly 
assign all the belongings of a dead person to some special indi- 
vidual, such as a mother's brother. The Kakadu, however, break 
up and burn a dead man's weapons and do the same with all the 
possessions of a dead woman. 101 

Among the Eastern Islanders of Torres Straits, if a man died 
childless his widow handed over all his effects to his male rela- 
tions, who broke them up and burnt them. Even his stone-headed 
clubs were chipped into small pieces and thrown upon the fire. 
If an only son died all his goods, and his father's likewise, were 
broken up and destroyed in the same manner ; sometimes the par- 
ents collected them inside the house and burned it down with its 
contents. Then they would ask their friends to destroy the prod- 
uce of their gardens and make a clean sweep of every growing 
thing. 102 In Mabuiag, one of the Western Islands of Torres 
Straits, the mourners went to the dead man's gardens and slashed 
at the taro, knocked down the coconuts, pulled up the sweet po- 
tatoes, and destroyed the bananas. 108 

Among the Roro-speaking tribes of British New Guinea many 
of a dead man's effects, though not his jewelry, are broken or 
damaged and hung beneath the eaves of his house, which is then 
deserted and allowed to decay. 104 Similarly among the Kiwai 
Papuans the most valuable ornaments of the deceased are usually 
kept by the heir. The remaining ornaments are destroyed or are 
given to people outside his or her group, sometimes to those in 
other villages. "The near relatives do not want to keep the things 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 179 

of everyday use which have belonged to the dead person, lest 
they should themselves die." 105 The Tamo of Bogadjim signalize 
the death of a prominent man by cutting down his coconut palms, 
killing his pigs, and breaking up his pots, bows, and other per- 
sonal possessions. 106 In the D'Entrecasteaux Archipelago the 
kinsfolk of the deceased blacken their bodies, shave their heads, 
and put on white cane armlets; "then, if their grief should over- 
whelm them, they break the dead man's pots and his canoe, per- 
haps even cut down his yam vines and banana trees and such of 
his coconut palms as chance to be in bearing .... A few years 
since, a Wagifa man was carried off to gaol. His relatives, think- 
ing he was gone forever, cut down his yam vines and bananas 
and several of his coconut trees as though he were already 
dead." 107 

The Sulka of New Britain destroyed all of a man's property 
after his death; if he had been wealthy or distinguished, his wives 
were killed as well. 108 In Bougainville Island most of a man's 
possessions are sacrificed during the funeral ceremonies. Not only 
are his provisions consumed, but his taro plantation and coconut 
palms will also be destroyed. The natives are said to fear the 
anger of his ghost were they to take what had been his prop- 
erty. 109 In New Georgia, one of the Solomon Islands, all the 
property of a dead man is "sacred" during the hundred days 
of mourning for him. No one touches his coconuts, canoe, or 
house; even his dog, if he had one, is allowed to starve, for no 
one will care for it. 110 Upon the death of a native of San Cristo- 
val, another of the Solomons, his trees are cut down, his nuts 
and yams are strewn about the ground, and his bowl is broken. A 
favorite dog or pig is also buried in a grave; in the case of a dog 
the bowl from which it fed will be broken, and in the case of a 
pig its owner's pig-hunting spear will be stuck up at the grave 
and never used again. 111 

In the island of Tanna, one of the New Hebrides, a man's 
coconut trees are chopped down after his death, but all other trees, 
together with his personal possessions, are transmitted to his 
heirs. 112 In Erromanga, on the other hand, the coconut trees are 
not sacrificed. For some years before his death the owner of the 
trees will speak of them as belonging to one of his sons, so that, 
when he dies, everyone says that the trees are the son's and not 
the father's. The natives appreciate the desirability of preserving 
the trees and have devised a legal fiction to make this possible. 118 
The New Caledonians make a clean sweep of the dead man's pos- 



180 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

sessions. His houses and nets are burned ; his plantations are rav- 
aged ; and his coconut trees are cut down. 114 

The natives of Niue, or Savage Island, uprooted all the plan- 
tations of a person who had died. His fruit trees were also felled 
and cast into the sea. 115 In the Marquesas Islands it was only 
when a chief had no children that his personal possessions were 
buried with him, but in all cases the things associated with the 
corpse, such as blankets and bier, were destroyed. 116 By the Maori 
the "personal apparel" of a deceased person was never used 
again. 117 

In the Nicobar Islands all the bulk of the portable property 
of the deceased such as (in the case of a man) his spears, pots, 
baskets, paddles, plates, and other articles are broken or other- 
wise made unserviceable. They are then taken to the cemetery 
to be deposited on the grave or at the headpost. 118 The Saora, 
or Savara, an aboriginal hill tribe of the Madras Presidency, burn 
with the dead man everything he possessed his bows and ar- 
rows, daggers, necklaces, clothes, ax, and reaping hook for cut- 
ting paddy. Even his money, or at least some of it, is cast into the 
fire. 119 Most of the Vedda groups, it is said, do not exhibit any 
avoidance of a dead man's property, but among the Henebedda 
the betel bag, unless it were a very good one, would be left with 
the corpse, and in many cases its contents would not be eaten, 
but deposited near the dead man. The areca-nut cutter and lime- 
box, which during his life had always been carried in the bag, 
were preserved. Before these precious objects could be safely 
used they had to be made harmless; thus the old headman of 
the Henebedda exposed his father's lime box and areca cutters 
under a bush for ten days and more. "It was necessary to do 
this, since if these objects had been used immediately, the in- 
dividuals using them would probably have contracted the same 
illness as that from which the dead man suffered." 120 

The custom under consideration is or has been very general 
among the native tribes of South Africa. We are told there was 
"an idea that something connected with death attached to the per- 
sonal effects of the deceased, on which account whatever had be- 
longed to him that could not be placed in the grave, his clothing, 
mats, head-rest, etc., was destroyed by fire. The hut in which he 
had lived was also burned, and no other was allowed to be built 
on the spot. If he had been the chief, the whole kraal was re- 
moved to another site. Those who touched the corpse or any of 
the dead man's effects were obliged to go through certain cere- 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 181 

monies, and then to bathe in running water before associating 
again with their companions." 121 The Bushmen, who dislike to 
touch a corpse, "owing to the fear of bad luck/' usually bury the 
ornaments of a dead man with him. 122 Among the Bogo of East 
Africa it is a common practice, when the head of a family dies, 
to burn everything in the house, even the store of food. The dead 
man's possessions are first packed in boxes before being thrown 
into the fire. His family, impoverished by their sacrificial act, 
are supported until the next harvest by the other villagers. 123 

The Bangala of the Upper Congo build a shelter over a grave, 
with a rough table under it. On this are placed bottles, saucepans, 
plates, mugs, and other articles, while stools and chairs are put 
under it and at its side. These objects are "killed," that is, broken. 
"All the natives told me that the articles were killed to keep people 
from stealing them, yet they had an idea that the things thus 
displayed not only served as a memento of the deceased but helped 
him, in his present state, in some indefinable way. Undoubtedly 
they had forgotten the reason for 'killing* the articles. The steal- 
ing reason was not sufficient to meet the case, as no one would be 
found with so much hardihood as to rob a grave, they had too 
wholesome a fear of spirits to do that; besides detection would 
have been easy and dire punishment follow the theft." 124 The 
Balolo, upon the death of a freeman, cut down all his banana trees 
and leave the fruit of his plantation to rot on a platform. No one 
dares to touch the fruit. 125 The Bana of the Cameroons heap 
upon a grave the shattered hut of the deceased, together with all 
its furnishings, even the smallest object which he had ever used 
in life. 126 The Yoruba of the Slave Coast, on the day after a fu- 
neral, burn everything which the deceased had in daily use, such as 
his pipe, mat, and calabashes, and other things of small value. 
Formerly, the destruction of property was much more extensive. 127 

It is a general rule among the Fuegians to destroy everything 
which a dead man owned. The Selk'nam (Ona) burn his prop- 
erty, and his faithful wife also casts into the flames many of her 
own treasured possessions. An exception is made of the valuable 
hunting dogs, for the natives say that their former owner would 
not like to have the people slay animals which had been his com- 
panions and useful servants. The Yamana (Yahgan) burn a 
man's possessions or cast them into the sea. Some of them may 
be placed in the grave, not as a funeral sacrifice, but because the 
survivors want to get rid of all things which belonged to the de- 
ceased. 128 A Patagonian who has amassed a little property by 



182 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

stealing from the whites or by trading with his neighbors can 
leave nothing to his children. Everything that he has is destroyed 
at his death ; even cattle, horses, and hunting dogs are killed. This 
practice helps to account for the natural indolence of the natives 
and forms an obstacle to their progress in the arts of life. "Why 
should they occupy themselves with the future when they have 
nothing to hope from it?" 129 The Lengua Indians of the Para- 
guayan Chaco, who burn the village where a death has occurred 
and go elsewhere, likewise burn the personal property of the de- 
ceased. If he possessed any domestic animals, these are generally 
killed. They say that unless these precautions were taken the ghost 
would haunt them. 130 The Abipones bury with a dead man his 
entire property or burn it in a bonfire. When a chief or notable 
warrior dies, the horses which he most prized are killed and fixed 
on stakes around his grave. 181 By the Bororo of Brazil everything 
which a dead man possessed is burned or thrown into the river, so 
that (as the natives say) he will not have any excuse for coming 
back to get them. 182 

Many of the Orinoco tribes, the Tamanac for instance, ravage 
the fields of a dead man and cut down the trees which he planted. 188 
The Itonoma of Bolivia abandon the fields of a deceased person 
(an adult) and do not harvest their growing crops. The land will 
never be used again ; it belongs to the dead. These Indians do not 
meddle with clay utensils and other objects found in old houses 
where people have died and in tombs ; such things, also, belong to 
the dead. 134 Of the purificatory ceremonies of the Toba Dr. Kar- 
sten writes : "When the natives burn such things as have belonged 
to the departed or been in some contact with him, this practice is 
solely due to their fear of the infection or pollution of death at- 
taching to such things. They are therefore given over to the fire, 
the strongest means of purification they know. But it ought to 
be added that this infection of death is always personified, that 
is, it is the death-demon with which the Indians fear to come into 
contact. If anybody, especially any one of the relatives, keeps 
these things and, for instance, eats from a vessel which had been 
used by the deceased, the evil demon may enter into him or her 
and cause disease and death." 185 Among the Miskito Indians of 
Honduras and Nicaragua it was frequently the custom to deposit 
all the personal property of a deceased person in his grave. Even 
his livestock had to be killed and his plantations and fruit de- 
stroyed. 186 

The Indians in the southwestern part of the United States 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 183 

still observe to some extent the custom of abandoning or destroy- 
ing the house in which an adult person died, and also his clothing 
and other possessions. "Many of the tribes recognize clearly 
that the burning of everything with which the deceased came 
into contact hinders contagion." Among the Zufii an adult's 
blankets are buried with him, his extra clothing and bedding are 
thrown away, the door of the house is left wide open for four 
days and nights, and then the house, before reoccupancy, is white- 
washed and the floor newly plastered with mud. 137 When a Pima 
householder died it was formerly the custom to burn down his 
dwelling "an excellent hygienic precaution, but detrimental to 
the development of architecture. The other structures about the 
premises were either burned or piled on the grave. Personal 
property was similarly destroyed, and if there was any livestock 
it was killed and eaten by anyone who chanced to be on hand, 
though the immediate relatives never partook of such food." 188 
Some Apache Indians, besides burning the house where a man 
died and burying with him or destroying everything which he 
owned or which he had used while sick, shoot his horses and cat- 
tle. 139 The Havasupai burn the dead man's house and choicest 
possessions, kill two or three of his good horses, and allow his 
land to lie idle and weed-covered for one or two years. If a man 
or woman died while a crop was standing, half of it would be 
used by the heirs and the other half cut down to dry until it could 
be burned. It is customary to give death-bed instructions to this 
effect and sometimes, also, for the destruction of any fruit trees 
on a person's land. 140 

The Porno Indians of California stripped themselves of their 
possessions after a death in the family, after the death of even a 
small child. "They not only burn up everything that the baby 
ever touched, but everything that they possess, so that they ab- 
solutely begin life over again naked as they were born, with- 
out an article of property left." 141 In former days the Quinault 
of Washington not only tore down the house in which a man 
died, but they also buried with him or put on his grave all his per- 
sonal property. They believed that the use of any clothing which 
had belonged to a man no longer living "would be speedy death." 142 
The Talkotin (Tautin) of British Columbia deposited with the 
dead man all his worldly goods, and his friends purchased other 
articles to be placed with them in or on the grave. 148 No Thomp- 
son Indian could with impunity take possession of the bow and 
arrows, the long leggings and moccasins of a departed tribesman, 



184 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

nor was it safe for anyone who did not possess a strong guardian 
spirit to smoke his pipe. His clothing, before being used, was 
washed and hung out for several days. It was also necessary to 
disinfect his traps and snares by suspending them for a long time 
in a tree far from any human habitation or graveyard. 144 

Among the Eskimo of Greenland the son inherits the father's 
tent and umiak (open boat) ; pots and soapstone lamps may also 
be inherited. But weapons and implements which a man made 
himself, even a sealer's kaiak (decked canoe) will be buried. in 
his grave. "Thus the personal right of possession of these things 
is so strongly developed that it has a religious character." 145 
Among the Point Barrow Eskimo, "all the personal property of 
the deceased is supposed to become unclean and must be exposed 
with him." 14a Similar practices are found among various Siber- 
ian tribes. 147 

The waste of both consumable and capital goods entailed by 
such a wholesale destruction of private property is obvious. It 
keeps many a primitive community sunk in direst poverty. It 
must also account, to no slight extent, for the indolence and lack 
of ambition displayed by the savage. Unable to transmit his be- 
longings to his descendants, he is thus deprived of one of the 
strongest motives which prompt men to the accumulation of 
wealth. That it has occasionally a beneficial outcome by prevent- 
ing the spread of infectious diseases is also obvious. While some 
American Indians are said now to recognize the sanitary value of 
the practice, the fact that it is not usually observed after the death 
of a child indicates that other considerations than those of sani- 
tation account for its origin. And the destruction of a man's do- 
mestic animals and growing crops points to the same conclusion. 
Whatever is good in this taboo, as in most other taboos, has been 
a by-product, something undesigned and unforeseen. So curiously, 
oftentimes, do human ways work out. 

For primitive thought a man's name is a part of himself, as 
much so as his bodily members. One who knows it can perform 
evil magic against him or exert malefic influence over him. A 
man's name is also frequently identified with his soul, which can 
be injured by its utterance. Accordingly, real names are often 
kept secret and substitutes for them are employed in ordinary life ; 
still more commonly names are surrounded with a variety of 
prohibitions intended to prevent their unauthorized use. Name 
avoidance seems to be in most cases a regulation whose infringe- 
ment is socially punished, occasionally by a heavy fine, expulsion 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 185 

from the community, and even by death. In some cases, however, 
the regulation ranks as a genuine taboo. 148 

If the names of the living are not to be pronounced, all the 
more will a similar prohibition be extended to those of the dead. 
While the name endures, the owner still endures; to use it is to 
summon him from the world of shades. Moreover, since the 
name of the dead man bears the contagion of death (name and 
thing named being one), the survivors who utter it will be pol- 
luted no less certainly than by handling his corpse or making use 
of his personal possessions. The prohibition may be perpetual, 
but it is sometimes limited either to the duration of the funeral 
ceremonies or to that of the mourning period. Coupled with the 
suppression of the dead man's name, either temporarily or per- 
manently, is the practice on the part of the survivors of changing 
their own names, so as to baffle a returning ghost or the evil spirit 
believed to be responsible for the death, or, again, as a disguise to 
escape the death pollution. 149 

We are told of the Tasmanians that to introduce, for any 
purpose whatever, the name of one of their deceased relatives, 
"called up at once a frown of horror and indignation, from a fear 
that it would be followed by some dire calamity." 150 Among the 
Maraura-speaking tribes of the Lower Darling River the names 
of the departed were never mentioned, "not out of respect but out 
of fear." 151 Queensland aborigines never utter the names of the 
dead lest their spirits should hear the voices of the living and 
thus discover the whereabouts of those whom they have left be- 
hind. 152 Should a native wilfully mention the name of a deceased 
person, he will have to submit to any mischief which the spirit of 
that person thus called upon may inflict. 158 

The tribes of Central Australia will not utter the name of a 
deceased person during the period of mourning, unless it is ab- 
solutely necessary to do so, and then it is only done in a whisper 
for fear of disturbing his ghost. If he heard it mentioned, he 
would conclude that his kinsfolk were not mourning for him 
properly and would come and trouble them in their dreams. 154 
Some tribes of northwestern Australia never mention a dead man's 
name after his burial; to do so would allow him to return and 
frighten them at night in the camp. He is spoken of only as "that 
one/' the speaker at the same time pointing in the direction of his 
grave. 155 The Tiwi of Melville and Bathurst Islands not only for- 
bid the use of a dead man's name but also of any word resembling 
it. "Spirits are not only malignant, they are also unreasonable, 



186 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

and whereas a live man would not quarrel with you for using an 
ordinary word resembling his name, his ghost is quite likely not 
to appreciate the difference. Hence the prohibition against similar 
words." 166 

In New Guinea a man's name "always dies with him." 157 The 
Dobuan believe* that an infringement of the name taboo entails 
disastrous consequences except on two occasions. When a person 
of importance is ill and apparently dying, a sorcerer who pos- 
sesses beneficent powers may call by name upon the spirit of^an 
ancestor to save the patient. It is also permitted to invoke an 
ancestral spirit in confirmation of a very solemn oath. 158 The 
Yabim avoid mentioning the names of the dead lest their ghosts, 
who pass the time in the forest eating unpalatable fruits, should 
suspend this occupation, return to the living, and vex them. 159 In 
the D'Entrecasteaux Islands the names of the dead must not be 
mentioned, "at least not before their memory has begun to fade." 
A person whose name happens to be the same as that of any one 
who has died is obliged to drop it at once and take another. 160 In 
Buin, a district of Bougainville Island, not the names of the living 
but those of the dead are changed. The latter receive "names of 
the other world," which were usually chosen by their bearers while 
alive. 161 

The Sea Dayak of Borneo often change the names of their 
children because of the great dislike of mentioning one who is 
dead. 162 No Toda likes to speak of the dead by name. It is strictly 
forbidden to mention the name of a dead elder relative. 163 In the 
funeral lamentations each mourner mentions the deceased by the 
name which indicates the bond of kinship between himself and 
the dead person, but does not utter the personal name. 184 

The Bushmen of South Africa "are very unwilling to speak 
of death, or of those who have died, and avoid the subject as much 
as possible." 165 The Basuto manifest a strong disinclination to 
mention the dead by their names. 166 Among the Nandi a dead 
person may not be named, except at the ceremonial naming of a 
child or the curing of someone who has fallen ill. If a dead person 
must be mentioned, he is referred to as "the deceased" or as 
"rubbish." 167 When a Masai child or woman dies, the body is 
thrown away and the person's name is "buried," that is, never 
again mentioned by the family. The same procedure is followed 
with warriors, who are unmarried. However, if an elder dies and 
leaves children, his descendants are named after him. 168 

Among most of the Indian tribes of South America the names 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 187 

of the dead are tabooed. 189 The prohibition of the use of such 
names seems to have prevailed widely among the Indians of North 
America, where, however, it did not always assume the character 
of a taboo. Thus, we are told that the California Indians disliked 
to mention a dead man's name because doing so would cause his 
relatives and their friends great grief. Among some tribes the 
worst insult which a person could inflict upon another was to speak 
of the latter's dead relatives and especially to mention them by 
name. 170 

Various observers have pointed out how these avoidances and 
precautions are an insuperable bar to the development of tribal 
history. Thus Mr. Beveridge, referring to some of the tribes of 
New South Wales, declares that their custom of endeavoring per- 
sistently to forget everything which had been connected with the 
dead "entirely precludes the possibility of anything of a historical 
nature having existence amongst them; in fact the most vital 
occurrence, if only dating a single generation back, is quite for- 
gotten, that is to say, if the recounting thereof should necessitate 
the mention of a defunct aboriginal's name." 171 To the same effect 
Mr. Gatschet declares that the Klamath Indians of Oregon 
possess no historic traditions going back more than a century "for 
the simple reason that there was a strict law prohibiting the men- 
tion of the person or acts of a deceased individual by using his 
name. This law was rigidly observed among the Calif ornians, 
no less than among the Oregonians, and on its transgression the 
death penalty could be inflicted. This is certainly enough to sup- 
press all historical knowledge within a people. How can history 
be written without names ?" 172 

The observance of rest days is by no means unknown to 
peoples in the lower stages of culture, and with them one occasion 
for suspending the ordinary occupations is after a death. The 
prohibition of work at this time usually forms only one of a 
number of regulations, which also prohibit sexual intercourse, 
impose partial or complete abstinence from food, and place a ban 
on loud talking, singing, dancing, and the wearing of ornaments 
and gay apparel. All these taboos are often confined to the family 
or at most to the relatives of the deceased ; in other cases, where 
the sense of social solidarity is strong, they affect the entire com- 
munity. They may sometimes be explained along animistic lines. 
The ghost of a dead man is supposed to remain for a time with 
the body in the grave or near the scenes of its earthly life. Until 
the funeral ceremonies are over, prudence requires the survivors 



188 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

to avoid all conspicuous activity, lest they attract the unwelcome 
attentions of the ghost. A similar period of quiescence is some- 
times considered to be necessary when the death has been attrib- 
uted to an evil spirit, which may be on the lookout for other 
victims. But the belief in the polluting power of death itself 
affords a more general explanation of the practices under dis- 
cussion. 

Communal taboos, requiring the cessation of work after a 
death, are not found among the Australian aborigines and are 
found only occasionally among the Melanesians, who occupy the 
great island group extending from New Guinea to the Fiji Archi- 
pelago. Such taboos are observed, however, by many other 
peoples, notably by the natives of Borneo, the hill tribes of Assam, 
the Malagasy, and the Bantu-speaking tribes of South Africa and 
East Africa. In the New World they are found well developed 
among the Eskimo of Greenland, Baffin Land, and Alaska. They 
also prevail among the Asiatic Eskimo, a fact which reinforces 
the argument for the transmission of cultural elements between 
northwestern America and northeastern Asia. 173 

Among the Sea Dayak of Borneo, when a death occurs in a 
village, "it is tabooed to work on the farm : at busy times for three 
days ; at other times for seven days." 174 When a chief dies, the 
natives refrain from work for a longer period than is usual upon 
the death of a commoner. 176 With the Naga of Manipur it is not 
necessary or usual for the entire community to observe genna in 
cases of non-mysterious death. But all cases of death by sudden 
illness, by accident, by the hand of an enemy, and by wild animals 
or snakes require the imposition of these periods of abstinence and 
quiescence. 176 

Upon the decease of a Malagasy king or queen many practices 
are tabooed (fady) to the common people, such prohibitions ex- 
tending to various periods according to the will of the new ruler. 
Thus, to sing, to play music, to clap hands, to laugh boisterously, 
to dance, to wear ornaments or brightly colored garments, to dress 
or anoint the hair, to wear a hat, to cut the nails, to clean the teeth, 
to bathe, to gaze in a mirror, and to carry the arms akimbo are 
all fady. Such tasks as pottery-making, spinning, and metal- 
working are often suspended. Furthermore, no one is allowed to 
lie on a bedstead or to ride in a palanquin or on horseback, and 
everyone is expected to shave the head and uncover the shoulders. 
Many of these regulations are also enforced after the death of a 
near relative. 177 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 189 

It is, or used to be, the rule among the Zulu tribes that no one 
labors in the fields on the day following a death. 178 After the 
death of a chief, work of every sort was suspended for six 
months. 179 The Akikuyu of Kenya Colony, who observe many 
taboos connected with the corpse, regard the day after a death 
as unlucky. "People will not travel, and goats and sheep will not 
bear, and all the inhabitants of the village shave their heads. The 
women will not go out for four days. On the next day the sons 
who have taken part in the burial do not work." 180 The Nilotic 
Kavirondo do not cultivate the fields for three days after the death 
of a person of importance, and for ten days after the death of a 
chief. 181 Their neighbors, the Basoga, sometimes extended the 
days of mourning for a deceased chief to two months. It is said 
that the crops not infrequently suffered because of the strict pro- 
hibition of work in the fields. 182 Certain Abyssinian tribes re- 
frain from plowing, sowing, and grinding grain until a corpse is 
buried. 188 

The restrictions after a death are prominent among the Es- 
kimo, who possess an extensive system of taboos. Thus, with the 
Eskimo of Baffin Land and Hudson Strait, it is forbidden "to 
scrape the frost from the window, to shake the beds or to disturb 
the shrubs under the bed, to remove oil-drippings from under the 
lamp, to scrape hair from skins, to cut snow for the purpose of 
melting it, to work on iron, wood, stone, or ivory. Furthermore, 
women are forbidden to comb their hair, to wash their faces, and 
to dry their boots and stockings/' 184 Some Alaskan villagers ab- 
stain from work on the day when a death occurred and, in many 
instances, on the day after such an event. After the death of a 
shaman no work will be done in a village for three days. 185 

The Reindeer Chukchi of northeastern Siberia forbid any 
kind of woman's work with needle and scraper during the period 
of the funeral ceremonies. This rule applies to all the houses in 
the camp or village, and even to other settlements in the vicinity. 186 
The Koryak stopped all work in the settlement before the last 
rites to the dead. No one went hunting or sealing, no one went 
to fetch wood, and the women did no sewing. At the present time 
the regulation is so far abrogated as to apply only to those in the 
house where the body lies. 187 

All persons who have anything to do with a dead body, in- 
cluding undertakers and gravediggers, the relatives of the de- 
ceased, and mourners, are often in a state of taboo which continues 
until their ceremonial purification. 188 



190 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Some Australian tribes on the Lower Murray River forbade 
mourners to speak for ten days, while the corpse was being re- 
duced to a mummy over a slow fire. 189 Among the Dieri of South 
Australia those who handled a corpse were unclean for several 
days. 190 In the Kakadu tribe of Northern Territory the men and 
women of a camp in which a death has occurred must purify 
themselves. Often those in other camps will do the same, "when 
they hear of the death of any special person." The men light a 
fire of grass stalks and, while the smoke curls around them, pour 
water over one another's heads and then rub themselves with a 
special kind of charcoal. The women daub themselves all over 
with yellow ochre or mud and put on mourning bracelets. At this 
ceremony the spears, throwing-sticks, and tomahawks of the 
men, and the mats, baskets, dilly bags, and digging sticks of the 
women in fact, all the possessions of the camp are purified by 
smoke from the fired grass. 191 

Among some of the Massim of southeastern New Guinea the 
relatives who have taken part in a funeral go down to the sea 
and bathe, and so do the widow and children, "because they have 
supported the dying man." After this purification in the salt water 
the widow and children also shave their heads. 192 The Elema 
people of the Papuan Gulf require a grave to be dug by old women, 
because gravedigging is "an unwholesome business for which 
they are fitted." A funeral procession is made up almost entirely 
of women. 193 Keraki gravediggers, after finishing their work, 
must wash carefully and remove any dirt from their fingernails, 
so as to rid themselves of any taint from the corpse. Upon their 
return to the village they are enveloped in a cloud of ashes thrown 
at them in handfuls by the people. 194 

In Aurora, one of the New Hebrides, the female mourners 
may not go into the open for a hundred days after a burial, nor 
may they so much as show their faces to anyone. They stay in- 
doors during this time and cover themselves with a large mat 
reaching to the ground. 195 In Malekula the two men who buried 
a body remained secluded in the clubhouse for thirty days. They 
did not stand upright but crawled on all fours, with their hands 
and knees inserted into coconut shells to avoid contact with the 
ground. They did not touch any food except their own. On the 
thirtieth day of the confinement they discarded the coconut shells, 
once more stood erect, came out of the clubhouse, and received a 
new name. Fifteen days later they emerged finally from retire- 
ment and returned to normal life. 198 Gravediggers in New Cale- 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 191 

donia have to remain near the grave for four or five days. They 
neither shave nor cut their hair, they abstain from certain viands, 
and do not touch with their hands the food brought to them. This 
is placed on leaves, and they take it up with their mouths or with 
a stick. They also wear a peculiar headdress. In spite of the cere- 
monial pollution which gravediggers must constantly acquire, they 
are treated with great respect; common people never pass near 
them without stooping. 197 In Fiji the office of gravedigger for 
chiefs was hereditary in a certain clan. After the funeral the 
digger, having first been painted black from head to foot, went 
into seclusion. He never ventured forth, except for short excur- 
sions, and then only after he had covered himself with a long 
mantle supposed to render him invisible. His food was brought 
to him at night, by silent bearers who placed it just within the 
doorway. His seclusion might last a long time, for several months, 
apparently. 198 

In Samoa, "those who attended the deceased were most care- 
ful not to handle food, and for days were fed by others as if they 
were helpless infants. Baldness and loss of teeth were supposed 
to be the punishment inflicted by the household god if they violated 
the rule." On the fifth day after the funeral they purified them- 
selves by bathing the face and hands with hot water, and then they 
were "clean." 199 In Tahiti all persons employed in embalming 
were, during the process, carefully avoided by everyone. 'They 
did not feed themselves, lest the food, defiled by the touch of their 
polluted hands, should cause their own death, but were fed by 
others." 200 

The tapu of those who handled a corpse or conveyed it to its 
last resting place was among the Maori "a most serious affair. 
The person who came under this form of the tapu was cut off from 
all contact, and almost all communication, with the human race. 
He could not enter any house, or come in contact with any person 
or thing, without utterly bedeviling them. He could not even 
touch food with his hands, which had become so frightfully tapu 
or unclean as to be quite useless. Food would be placed for him 
on the ground, and he would then sit or kneel down, and, with his 
hands carefully held behind his back, would gnaw it in the best 
way he could. In some cases he would be fed by another person, 
who, with outstretched arm, would manage to do it without touch- 
ing the tapu'd individual ; but this feeder was subjected to many 
and severe restrictions, not much less onerous than those to which 
the other was subject. In almost every populous native village 



192 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

there was a person, who, probably for the sake of immunity from 
labour, or from being good for nothing else, took up the under- 
taking business as a regular profession, and, in consequence, was 
never for a moment, for years together, clear of the horrid in- 
conveniences of the tapu, as well as its dangers/' 201 

In Yap, one of the Caroline Islands, the nearest relatives of 
the deceased are secluded in a solitary place for twenty-seven days 
after the funeral, because, say the natives, their persons are in- 
fected with the smell of death (liu). After their return to the 
village they must not do any work or eat certain kinds of food 
for another period of thrice nine days. Their liberty to walk about 
continues to be restricted for a still longer period, until they are 
supposed to be quite rid of the death pollution. 202 

Some of the Dayak tribes of Borneo regard all the kindred 
of a deceased person as "unclean" for a period of from three to 
seven days. For the immediate relatives husband, wife, and 
children the uncleanness lasts much longer and ends only when 
the final feast of the dead is held. 203 The Bontoc Igorot of Luzon 
are said to manifest little sign of fear or awe in the presence of 
the dead. Nevertheless, when a man is buried they make the great- 
est haste to fill up the grave, lest, while engaged in their labors, 
cawing crows fly over it, dogs bark in its neighborhood, and 
snakes or rats cross the trail. Great evil would follow any such 
untoward happening. When all is finished, those who have taken 
part in the burial hurry away at a dogtrot to wash themselves in 
the river. 204 A Karen gravedigger must wash his clothes after a 
funeral. A failure to do so would involve him in misfortune. 205 
In the Nicobar Islands all who have had any part in a funeral go 
down into the water and wash their feet; only after they have 
thus cleansed themselves may they enter any "good" house, that is, 
any house which is ceremonially clean. The next day is one of 
solemn rest for the mourners. They may not sing, dance, laugh, 
or eat certain kinds of food for several days after the funeral. 
Those who have become impure by actual contact with the corpse 
are subject to still other restrictions lasting for a month or more. 206 
The pastoral Toda take the utmost precautions on the occasion 
of a death, because of the susceptibility of the cattle and the 'milk 
to ceremonial defilement. All who go near the corpse become 
impure or ichchil, a term which likewise designates the impurity 
of childbirth. The whole family in which the death has occurred 
is spoken of as being ichchil. Anyone who goes to a village where 
the relics of the deceased are being kept in the period between the 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 193 



first and second funerals becomes ichchil. Those who wish to 
attend a funeral and yet would avoid pollution must sit at a dis- 
tance and take no part in the proceedings. A person who has 
incurred the pollution of death remains in this dangerous state 
until the next new moon. 207 To purify the places where funeral 
rites took place the Toda perform a ceremony which includes the 
killing of a buffalo. Blood is drawn from the dead animal and 
mixed with earth in a basket; bark may also be added. The 
mixture is then scattered over the spots where the buffalo was 
caught and killed and where the dead man or his relics had been 
deposited at the two funerals. The ceremony is not performed 
for women. No use is made of the flesh of the buffalo, and its 
body is left where it falls. 208 

In Madagascar "no corpse is allowed to be buried in the capital 
city, or to remain in it beyond a very short time. The rough bier 
on which the body is carried is thrown away in the neighbourhood 
of the grave as polluted; no one would dare to use it even for 
firewood, but it is left to decay with the weather. Besides this, 
after a funeral the mourners all wash their dress, or at least dip a 
portion of it in running water, a ceremony which is called afana, 
'freed from/ and is supposed to carry away the uncleanness con- 
tracted from contact with or proximity to a corpse." 209 

Among the Thonga the contamination of death necessitates 
purification, most rigorous for the widows and, in a descending 
scale of severity, for the gravediggers, the inhabitants of the 
bereaved village, the relatives residing in other villages, and the 
relatives of the wives of the deceased. Moreover, all the villagers 
must refrain from sexual intercourse throughout the mourning 
period and even during the last days of the deceased when his 
death is imminent. After the death of a headman or some other 
great personage all the married couples of the village have "sexual 
relations in the ritual fashion." Each woman then washes her 
hands and thus cleanses them from their "impurity." Finally both 
men and women bathe in a stream. This sexual rite of purification 
takes place several weeks after the funeral, and until it has been 
performed a husband must not have intercourse with his wife. 210 
Among the Nandi of Kenya three adult relatives of a dead 
person take away the corpse at nightfall and leave it in the bush, 
there to be eaten by hyenas. While doing so, they must be very 
careful not to stumble, lest misfortune come to the whole family. 
Upon their return to the village, they bathe in a river, anoint their 
bodies with fat, partially shave their heads, and live in the hut of 



194 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

the deceased for four days, during which time they may not be 
seen by a boy or a female. They may not touch food with their 
hands, but must eat with the help of a potsherd or a chip of gourd, 
and they may not drink milk. 211 The Akamba allow only old men 
to touch a dead body, to be present at a burial, to dig a grave, 
or to perform the ritualistic sweeping of a hut where a death 
occurred. For others these actions are under a taboo, whose 
violation brings on a disease. The old men do not require puri- 
fication. 212 

Among the Twi of the Gold Coast "persons who have touched 
the corpse are considered unclean ; and, after the interment, they 
proceed in procession to the nearest well or brook, and sprinkle 
themselves with water, which is the ordinary native mode of puri- 
fication." Among the Ewe of the Slave Coast "contact with a 
corpse renders a person unclean, and he must purify himself by 
washing in water from head to foot." Among the Yoruba after a 
death the priest sprinkles corpse, room, and spectators with water 
of purification. 213 To touch a dead body or to have anything to do 
with a grave is considered by the Lower Niger tribes a pollution. 
It is unlucky for a man to come into a house with the earth of the 
grave upon his person. All who perform the office of washing and 
dressing a corpse must purify themselves. 214 

The aborigines of South America subject mourners to many 
taboos. Thus the Lengua Indians of the Paraguayan Chaco re- 
quire the near relatives of the deceased to be closely muffled up 
and to live apart from other people for the space of a month, 
"taking their food alone, and never sharing in the common pot." 
They are regarded as unclean and must be purified with hot water 
at the expiration of the mourning period. 215 The restrictions 
which the Taulipang and other Guiana tribes impose upon the 
nearest relatives of a deceased person are almost identical with 
those which a girl observes at her first menstruation. The mourn- 
ers may not speak in loud tones. They may not eat big game. 
Everything eaten or drunk by them must first be made harmless 
by an appropriate incantation. They do no work for a month. 
They do not visit the manioc plantations while the corpse is moul- 
dering, lest the crop fail. As a native declared, "The manioc would 
sense the corruption of the corpse and would also become cor- 
rupt." 216 

The Creek Indians believed that certain malefic influences 
emanated from a corpse even after it was laid in the ground. 
Persons in its vicinity were subject to aches and pains about the 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 195 

joints of the legs and in other places. Even the dirt that fell upon 
a gravedigger's clothing, or dirt from a grave over which a person 
had stepped, was likely to bring on rheumatic pains. A person 
who dug a grave could communicate his ailment to others. 217 
After contact with a corpse an Iroquois Indian bruised leaves of 
the common plantain, put them in water, and washed his face and 
eyes with the decoction. It "would not be well" for a sick person 
or a child to be seen by one who had neglected this purificatory 
rite. 218 

The funeral ceremonies formerly observed by the Hupa In- 
dians of California were followed by a ceremonial purification 
of the relatives and the gravedigger. After the burial they retired 
to the sweat house, where a priest proceeded to compound a potent 
medicine of boiled herbs. This he applied to the heads, arms, and 
legs of the persons to be purified, saying, "This will make your 
body new, you will have good luck again when you hunt or fish 
or gamble." The gravedigger rubbed the palms of his hands and 
the soles of his feet because his hands had handled the corpse and 
his feet had trodden the grave. Then they all went to the river- 
side, washed again with the medicine, and finally bathed in the 
river. These proceedings were repeated several times on different 
days. The gravedigger had to observe still other ceremonies be- 
fore becoming rid of the pollution which made him so dangerous 
to his fellows. 219 The fear which the Indians of Washington ex- 
hibit toward a corpse and their horror of touching it "oftentimes 
gives rise to a difficulty as to who shall perform the funeral cere- 
monies, for any person who handles a dead body must not eat of 
salmon or sturgeon for thirty days." 220 

The Seechelt of British Columbia, who believe that a dead 
body is inimical to the salmon, require the relatives of a deceased 
person to refrain from eating salmon or from entering a creek 
where salmon are found. The prohibition is not observed, how- 
ever, after the fish have arrived in such numbers that there is no 
danger of their being frightened away. A similar rule prevails 
among the neighboring Lillooet. 221 Among the Kutchin or Lou- 
cheux Indians those who perform the last offices for the dead are 
required to observe various restrictions. They must not eat fresh 
meat, unless no other food is available ; they must tear meat with 
their teeth, the use of a knife being forbidden to them; and they 
must drink out of a gourd carried on their person and not out of 
any drinking or cooking vessel. They wear peeled willow wands 
round their arms and necks and carry them in their hands. "These 



196 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

are supposed to keep off infection and to prevent any evil which 
might follow the handling of a deceased body." 222 Among the 
Eskimo of Bering Strait the housemates of the deceased must 
remain in their accustomed places in the house for four days 
following the death, while the shade is believed to be still about. 
They wear fur hoods, "to prevent the influence of the shade from 
entering their heads and killing them." The dead man's former 
bedfellows must not on any account leave their places at this 
time. "If they were to do so the shade might return and, by 
occupying a vacant place, bring sickness or death to its original 
owner or to the inmates of the house." 223 

Widows and widowers, because of their intimate relationship 
with the deceased, must observe innumerable precautions, avoid- 
ances, and purificatory rites, and widows, in particular, are some- 
times treated as if they were lepers. 224 In the Euahlayi tribe of 
New South Wales a widow has to cover herself with mud and 
sleep beside a smouldering fire all the night following her hus- 
band's death. Three days later she goes down to a creek, to be 
laved in the water and well smoked at a fire the men have built 
on the bank. After these purificatory measures have been taken, 
the ban of silence which had rested upon her is lifted, but for 
several months she must wear a widow's cap and keep her face 
daubed with pipe-clay. 225 A Central Australian widow is required 
to smear her hair, face, and breasts with pipe-clay. In some cases 
she may not speak for as long as twelve months after her hus- 
band's death but must communicate by means of the gesture lan- 
guage. 226 

The Roro-speaking tribes of British New Guinea require a 
widow or a widower to remain at home as much as possible for 
from four to ten months. During this time the bereaved spouse 
must go out only by the back of the house and must be so well 
wrapped up as to be unrecognizable by any person of the opposite 
sex. For the first few weeks after her husband's death the widow 
should be careful, when quitting her abode, "to let herself down 
heavily so as to simulate falling or rolling from the house," and 
whenever she goes abroad, her friends, realizing her weakness, 
should support her on their arms. Among these tribes both 
widows and widowers shave the head as a sign of mourning. 227 

Among the tribes inhabiting the Hood Peninsula a widow or 
a widower lives in seclusion for two or three months, shaves the 
head, blackens the body, and wears a special costume appropriate 
to her (or his) grief -stricken condition. 228 A Kai widow erects 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 197 

V 

a little hut over the grave, and there she eats and sleeps for several 
weeks. She goes about as little as possible, and she does not 
bathe. A widower is subject to the same restrictions. 229 

In the Trobriand Islands a widow is secluded in a small cage 
within her home. "She must not leave the place; she may speak 
only in whispers ; she must not touch food or drink with her own 
hands, but wait till they are put into her mouth ; she remains closed 
up in the dark, without fresh air or light; her body is thickly 
smeared over with soot and grease, which will not be washed off 
for a long time." This purgatorial confinement continues for a 
period which varies from about six months to two years, accord- 
ing to the status of her husband. 230 In Eddystone Island, one of 
the Solomons, a widow discards all ornaments and wears nothing 
but dark cloth. She neither cuts her hair nor whitens it with 
lime. A small enclosure, just large enough for her to lie in, is 
made for her inside the house. If her husband had been a chief, 
she must remain quite invisible, with her knees drawn up like 
those of the dead man. When the widow of either a chief or a 
commoner goes out to satisfy nature, she must crouch under a 
mat. A widow, after her purification has been accomplished, is 
never called by her own name but is always addressed as nam- 
boko. 2 * 1 A Maori widow remained in a state of taboo until the 
bones of her husband had been scraped and brought to their final 
resting place. The same custom was observed by a widower. 232 

The Agutaino of Palawan, one of the Philippines, do not allow 
a widow to quit her abode for seven or eight days after her be- 
reavement ; even then she must avoid meeting anybody, for who- 
ever looks upon her dies at once. As she goes along she hits on 
the trees with a wooden peg to give warning of her approach ; the 
trees themselves soon die. 238 A Tenguian widow, during the three 
days that her late husband's body is kept in the house, sleeps 
under a fish net. This is a most necessary precaution, for near 
the place of death lurks a spirit only awaiting a favorable oppor- 
tunity to cohabit with the spouse of the deceased. Once she felt 
his cold embrace she would die. The meshes of the net entangle 
the long fingers of the spirit and prevent his close approach. The 
widow takes off her beads, puts on old garments and a bark head- 
band, and places over her head a large white blanket, which she 
wears until after the burial. AH relatives of the dead man likewise 
don blankets and abstain from work. The members of the imme- 
diate family observe still stricter precautions. They eat only corn, 
touch nothing bloody, do not swing their arms when walking, and 



198 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

do not mount a horse. Under no circumstances may they leave 
the village or join in festivities. A failure to keep these taboos 
is followed by swift punishment, generally meted out by the spirit 
of the dead person. 284 

Many tribes of South Africa and ast Africa require coitus 
by a widow or a widower as the final feature of the ceremony of 
purification. Among the Bechuana men and women who had lost 
their partners during the preceding twelve months spent a night 
in a temporary booth and engaged in "miscellaneous cohabita- 
tion." 285 Before a Thonga widow can remarry she must have 
sexual intercourse with another man whom she deceives. If the 
act keeps its ritual character, the man will take on the malediction 
of death and she will be purified. If, on the contrary, the man 
accomplishes the whole act, the widow returns home in despair. 
She has failed, and special medicines are needed to cope with her 
dangerous condition. The man who has unconsciously purified 
a widow and who becomes aware of the fact will likewise have 
recourse to the doctor's medicines to get rid of the pollution of 
death. 288 A Ba-ila widower is in a state of taboo. "There is hang- 
ing about him something contagious: something left over from 

his marital relationship with his deceased wife We have 

heard this explained as being the spirit (muzhimo) of the deceased 
which attaches itself to him and his clothes; but it would appear 
to be physical rather than psychical, for it can be got rid of by 
transferring it to somebody else." A female friend of his deceased 
wife comes to his hut; he has intercourse with her; the act frees 
him from impurity ; he is ready to marry again. A widow is like- 
wise in a state of taboo, which prevents her from carrying on her 
usual occupation or from remarrying until she has been purified. 
A relation of her deceased husband has intercourse with her, but 
if he does not put in an appearance she seeks some other man to 
remove the defilement from her. 287 

The Bakaonde of Northern Rhodesia, neighbors of the Ba-ila, 
have reduced the purification of widows and widowers to what 
may be described as a business basis. A fee is paid by the widow 
(or by her relatives) to her husband's heir for sleeping with her 
for a night or so. However, should she be old or ill-favored, it is 
enough for him to take her before the people and rub a little white 
flour on her body or put some white beads on her. By the one 
means or the other he releases the spirit of her deceased husband. 
For the same purpose a widower buys the services of his deceased 
wife's sister, or, failing her, of some other woman with whom 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 199 

he may pass the night. If the widower is old and unattractive, 
the woman chosen may content herself with entering a hut with 
him and cutting her abdominal string, a simple procedure, indeed, 
but sufficient to release the unwanted spirit of his deceased wife. 
The only objection to these arrangements (from the native point 
of view) is that many men refuse to clear a widow of her spiritual 
encumbrance unless they are paid an exorbitant fee. Until it is 
paid, the widow is not free to marry or even to leave the village 
of her late spouse. Widowers can usually look out for themselves, 
but the same excessive demands on them are often made before 
the necessary woman is produced. Should the man remarry or 
cohabit elsewhere, he is then liable to pay compensation to his new 
wife's relatives for having married before being cleared. This is 
because of the belief that the spirit of the deceased wife will be 
inimical to the new wife if the proper formalities have not been 
observed. The relatives of the deceased wife will also expect com- 
pensation from him "for not doing as he should." 288 

In one of the two social divisions of the Akikuyu the death 
of an elder is followed by a ceremony to cleanse the village from 
the "stain of death." Then the elders select one of their number 
who is very poor and of the same clan as the deceased to sleep 
in the hut of the senior widow of the deceased and have connection 
with her. He generally continues to live in the village and is 
looked upon as a stepfather to the children. 239 Among the Ather- 
aka of southeastern Kenya after the death of the head of a family 
the sons may take the younger widows as their wives, "but not 
until the brother of the deceased has ceremonially cohabited with 
the principal wife of the deceased." If this rite is not observed 
before a son marries one of his father's widows, he will become 
taboo (makiva), and only the medicine man can remove his im- 
purity. 240 An Akamba widow, after the purification of the vil- 
lagers, must sleep with the dead man's brother as her husband, 
or, if he had no brother, then with another elderly man. Similarly 
a widower purifies himself by having intercourse with one of his 
other wives. A man with only one wife must find another woman 
whose husband had recently died and cohabit with her. 241 Among 
some of the tribes of Ruanda, a district to the west of Lake Vic- 
toria, ritual coitus is prescribed for the purification of a widow. 
One or two months after the death of her husband she must co- 
habit with a stranger at cockcrow in the morning. Cohabitation 
is not complete, however; if it were so the man would die. 242 
A Nandi widow is "unclean." As long as she is in mourning, 



200 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

no warrior may enter her house; she may not go near warriors or 
stand up while they are sitting down; and she must speak in a 
whisper. In this tribe widows are not allowed to remarry or again 
wear married women's earrings. 248 

The Lower Congo tribes prescribe rather elaborate purificatory 
rites for a widow, but only after the death of her first husband. 
"She must take his bed, and one or two articles he commonly used, 
to a running stream. The bed is put in the middle of the stream 
and the articles placed upon it. The woman washes herself in the 
stream, and afterwards sits on the bed. The medicine man goes 
to her and dips her three times in the water, and dresses her. Then 
the bed and articles are broken, and the pieces thrown downstream 
to float away. She is now led out of the stream, and a raw egg is 
broken and given to her to swallow. A toad is killed and some 
of its blood is rubbed on her lips, and a fowl is killed and hung 
by the roadside. After these sacrifices have been made to the spirit 
of the departed one, she is free to return to her town. On arriving 
there, she sits on the ground and stretches her legs before her and 
her deceased husband's brother steps over them. She is now puri- 
fied, and will be free to marry when the time of her widowhood is 
completed." These proceedings must be carried out in all their 
detail, as otherwise no other man will seek her in marriage. A 
widower who has lost his first wife must also observe somewhat 
similar ceremonies to "wash away the death/' as the natives say. 244 

Widows in West Africa are confined to their huts, where they 
sit on the ground, eat little food, and remain in a state of filth 
and abasement until the ghost of their husband has finally quitted 
this world. In Calabar they have to keep watch, two at a time, 
in the hut when the body is buried, and they have to pay out of 
their separate estate for the entertainment of all friends of the 
deceased who do him the honor of a visit. "If he has been an 
important man, a big man, the whole district will come, not in a 
squadron, but just when it suits them, exactly as if they were 
calling on a live friend. Thus it often happens that even a big 
woman is bankrupt by the expense." 245 Among some tribes of 
Togoland a widow must remain completely secluded for five or six 
weeks. During this time she carries a good stout stick with which 
to ward off possible attacks from her husband's ghost. Even after 
she comes out of the hut, she must be safeguarded for the next 
six months, since the ghost, until the expiration of this period, is 
likely to revisit the neighborhood. Then, after certain ceremonies, 
she may remarry. 246 At Agweh, on the Slave Coast, a widow 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 201 

had to stay shut up for six months in the room where her husband 
was buried. At the end of her seclusion a fire was lighted and 
red peppers were cast into it. After she had been almost stifled 
by the pungent fumes, she might safely mix again with the out- 
side world. 247 

The Twi of the Gold Coast require a widow, some months 
after her bereavement, to offer a sacrifice to the tutelary deity of 
the family. To have intercourse with a man before the perform- 
ance of this rite would expose her to some grave misfortune, while 
her partner would fall a victim to the wrath of the deceased hus- 
band's ghost. 248 Among the Ibo of Nigeria the widow must stay 
at home during the day. When she goes out at night she does so 
by the back of the house, where the wall has been broken down to 
permit her egress. She does not cook for anyone and no one cooks 
for her, except a small girl who has not yet put on neck ornaments. 
She may not touch any male person except a small boy who has 
not yet begun to wear a loincloth. Only her son may visit her, 
and then only at night. No one may enter the water where she is 
washing or step over her legs. These restrictions continue in force 
for twenty-eight days after the burial of her husband. 249 

The Patagonian Indians required widows and widowers to 
remain secluded in a tent. They held no communication with the 
outside world, fasted, abstained from certain articles of diet, did 
not wash, and blackened themselves with soot. After mourning 
in this way for a year they were allowed to remarry. 250 A Zuni 
widow or widower "must not approach the fire, must not touch 
or be touched by any one, must not receive anything directly from 
the hand of another person, must not talk, and must sleep very 
little, if at all." These restrictions are in force for four days. 251 
A Lillooet widow may not eat fresh food for a year. She may 
not sleep on the customary bed or sleeping mat, but on a special 
bed of red fir branches. A young widow requires ceremonial 
cleansings to insure that she will live long and be innocuous to her 
second husband. Should a widow marry shortly after the death 
of her former husband, without having been thus purified, her 
second husband's life would be very short. A Lillooet widower 
abstains from fresh meat for some time the younger the man the 
longer his abstention. A young widower has also to refrain from 
sexual intercourse for a year, the more particularly if he possesses 
esoteric or mystery powers. 252 

The impurity of widows and widowers was very pronounced 
among the Thompson Indians. Immediately after the death of the 



202 TABOO : A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

husband or wife, the survivor went out and passed four times 
through a patch of rosebushes. For four days she or he had to 
wander about, either in the evening or at daybreak, wiping the 
eyes with fir twigs, which were then hung in the branches of 
trees. It was also necessary, as a precaution against blindness, to 
rub four times across the eyes a small smooth stone taken from 
running water. The stone was then thrown away. For the first 
four days the survivor might not touch food, but used sharp- 
pointed sticks instead of fingers. For an entire year a widow or a 
widower slept on a bed of fir branches and washed every morning 
and evening in the creek. Failure to perform these ceremonies 
carried the penalty of sore throat, loss of voice, or blindness. No 
flesh of any kind and no fresh fish might be eaten for an entire 
year. Certain fruits were also forbidden during this period. Any 
grass or branches upon which a widow or a widower sat or lay 
down withered up. A widow might not pick berries for a year, or 
else the whole crop would fall from the bushes or wither up. A 
widower might not hunt or fish because of the resulting bad luck 
for himself and for other hunters and fishers. 263 

Homicide within the peace group, whether a joint family, a 
village, a clan, or even a tribe, is a rare occurrence among primi- 
tive peoples, who, because of its rarity, are often at a loss how 
to deal with it. Frequently no definite penalty is prescribed for 
its commission. In some cases, however, the manslayer is under 
taboo, as being a source of danger not only to himself but also to 
his fellows. A deadly pollution surrounds him ; the ghost of his 
victim, wrathful at being so hurriedly and so unpleasantly dis- 
patched to the other world, pursues him, even as the Furies 
pursued Orestes. All the mystic perils with which the savage 
invests death are accentuated when it has been due to violence. 
Hence homicide, even when justifiable or accidental, sometimes 
calls for elaborate rites of purification. 254 

These rites have not been found in Australia, but they are 
known in various parts of New Guinea. When a Koita had killed 
a fellow tribesman, whether man or woman, the blood was not 
washed off the spear or club, but was allowed to dry on it.. The 
killer bathed in salt or fresh water on his way to the village and 
then went to his house, where he remained secluded for about a 
week. "He was aina, and might not approach women, and though 
there apparently were no food taboos, he lifted his food to his 
mouth with a single-pronged fork made of pig or kangaroo bone. 
His women folk did not necessarily leave the house, though they 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 203 

took care not to approach him. At the end of a week, he built 
a rough shelter in the bush, in which he lived for a few days, 
often in the company of other men of about his own tribal status." 
During this time he made a new waistband, which he wore on his 
return to the village. After a ceremonial dance had been held, 
he went home and ceased to be aina. "A man who had killed an- 
other was stated to get thin and to lose condition. This was be- 
cause he had been splashed with the blood of his victim, and as 
the corpse rotted, so he too wasted. So firmly was this believed, 
that in the old days a man who got thin without losing his health, 
and for no obvious reason, would have been suspected of having 
killed somebody." 255 

Among the natives of the Andaman Islands a man who has 
killed another in a private quarrel or in a fight between two vil- 
lages retires to the jungle and lives there for several weeks, or 
even months. Only his wife and one or two of his friends may 
visit him and feed him, for he is not allowed to touch any food with 
his hands, nor may he handle a bow or an arrow. If he breaks either 
of these rules, it is thought that the spirit of his victim will make 
him ill. This period of seclusion is followed by a ceremony of 
purification. 258 

Both the murderer and the accidental killer are under a taboo 
in many parts of Africa. Among the Amaxosa "if anyone kills 
a man he is considered unclean." He must then roast his meat 
upon a fire of a particular kind of wood which gives the meat a 
bitter taste. Having eaten it, he must rub his face with the 
cooled fragments of the burnt wood until his face is quite black. 
After a certain time he may wash himself, rinse his mouth with 
milk, and dye himself brown again. "From this time he is 
clean." 257 The uncomfortable feelings which affect a murderer, 
feelings which we should call remorse and ascribe to conscience, 
the Ba-ila ascribe to the ghost of his victim. The ghost is sup- 
posed to lodge itself in the region of the epigastrium, whence it 
can be expelled by means of an emetic or by cupping. "The phys- 
ical basis for such a belief is, of course, that the solar plexus be- 
comes disturbed by excitement of the higher centers." The Ba-ila 
have another idea of the murderer's condition seemingly more like 
obsession than possession. They think that a killer is haunted by 
the ghost of the slain man or that the ghost is in him the idea is 
very vague. A native went to stay at a village and fell sick there. 
The diviner declared that he had committed murder and that a 
ghost haunted him. The man was therefore driven away, for had 



204 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

he been allowed to remain many of the villagers would have 
died. 258 

The Nandi treat the killer of a fellow clansman as "bitter or 
unclean" (ngwonin) for the rest of his life. He may never again 
enter a cattle kraal except his own, and whenever he wishes to 
go into a hut he must strike the earth twice with a rhinoceros- 
horn club before crossing the threshold. However, this state of 
permanent bitterness or uncleanness can be removed if he suc- 
ceeds in killing two other Nandi of a different clan and himself 
pays the blood money to the relatives of the murdered men. 269 
The Akikuyu believe that if a man who has killed another man of 
his own clan goes to a village and eats with a family in their hut, 
those who entertained him will become polluted (thahu). In this 
case a medicine man must be called in to purify both the hut and 
its occupants. 260 The Atheraka require a murderer to be purified 
by a tribal elder, who smears the blood of a goat over small inci- 
sions made on the culprit's body. Were this rite omitted, the mur- 
derer would continue on his bloody course, slaying friends and 
foes alike. 261 Among the Kavirondo a murderer lives in a hut 
apart from the village. An old woman attends to his wants and 
cooks for him. She also feeds him, because he may not touch 
food with his hands. The period of separation lasts for three 
days. On the fourth day a man who has himself committed mur- 
der, or has at some time killed a foe in battle, takes him to a stream 
and washes him all over. Next, the murderer is fed a ceremonial 
meal consisting of goat's flesh and porridge. Then the skin of 
the goat is cut into strips, which are wound around his neck and 
wrists. It is said that until these purificatory rites have been per- 
formed the ghost of the slain man cannot depart for the place of 
the dead but hovers about the murderer. 282 

Negroes of the Cameroons, in a case of accidental homicide, 
carry out a ceremony to remove the bloodguiltiness which would 
otherwise attach to the manslayer. The relatives of the slayer and 
the slain having assembled, an animal is killed and everyone pres- 
ent is smeared with its blood. 283 The Builsa and other tribes of 
the northern Gold Coast require certain purificatory ceremonies 
to be performed over a murderer on the third day after the com- 
mission of his deed. Until these take place, he may not enter his 
wife's hut. He may not speak to her or to his children. Rela- 
tives and strangers alike communicate with him only by signs. 
Food is brought to him by a man who has himself committed 
murder. He sleeps in company with other former murderers on 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 205 

the mound of his ancestors. A murderer is known because he 
must wear upon his neck a little piece of wood. One who has 
killed another by accident is not subjected to purification. 28 * We 
are told that among the Kru of Liberia blood revenge usually 
takes place only during wartime. In the thick of battle a man 
may shoot some member of his own clan against whom he bears 
a grudge. If this happens, the murderer must immediately search 
out an intimate friend and confess what he has done. Then they 
proceed to the nearest stream. The murderer fills his gun barrel 
with water and drinks the water. He is now absolved from the 
crime he has committed. Were the purificatory rite not performed 
the taboo power (kid) inherent in the crime would suffice to cause 
his death. 265 

Throughout Morocco private manslayers are regarded as un- 
clean. Poison oozes from underneath their nails ; hence anybody 
who drinks water in which a manslayer has washed his hands will 
fall dangerously ill. Those who eat with him from the* same dish 
are careful to avoid any portion of the food which his fingers 
have touched. Indeed, people often refuse to eat in company with 
a homicide. In one part of Morocco he is not allowed to butcher 
an animal, to skin one, or to cut up its meat, and at a market he 
must keep at a little distance from the meat offered for sale by 
the butchers. "When the governor wants to squeeze money out 
of the butchers he sends to them a homicide, who can punish any 
obstinacy on their part simply by touching the meat to make it 
unsalable/* One who has taken human life is not allowed to go 
into a vegetable garden or an orchard, to tread on a threshing 
floor, to enter a granary, or to go among the sheep. He is also 
forbidden to visit a mosque. 266 

Similar ideas of the uncleanness attaching to those who have 
committed homicide in private quarrels are found in North Amer- 
ica. The Omaha Indians subjected a murderer, whose life had 
been spared, to various pains and penalties. He must walk bare- 
foot. He might not eat warm food, raise his voice, or look around. 
Even in warm weather he had to keep his robe drawn tightly 
about him and tied at the neck. He was obliged to hold his hands 
close to his body. He was not allowed to comb his hair. When 
the tribesmen were going on a hunt, he must pitch his tent about 
a quarter of a mile from the encampment, "lest the ghost of his 
victim should raise a high wind which might cause damage." No 
one wished to eat with him. At the end of this period of ostra- 
cism the kindred of the murdered man said, "It is enough. Be- 



206 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

gone, and walk among the crowd. Put on moccasins and wear a 
good robe." 28T The Ponka believe that ghosts surround a mur- 
derer and keep up a constant whistling. He can never satisfy his 
hunger, though he gorge himself. He must not be allowed to 
roam at large lest high winds arise. 268 

Among the Cheyenne Indians a murderer who had succeeded 
in escaping the vengeance of the murdered man's relatives camped 
by himself for a long time. The tribal court considered his case 
and the chief summoned the relatives to learn from them what 
compensation would satisfy them for their loss. When the blood 
fine had been paid by the murderer's kinsmen, he might return to 
the camp. But henceforth he was a marked man. He might not 
eat in the same lodge with his fellows, use their dishes, or drink 
out of their cups. If by any chance he drank from a cup not his 
own, it would often be thrown away; if not, it would be purified. 
He carried his own pipe and tobacco, for no one would smoke 
with him or take a pipe from him as it was passed from hand to 
hand. If unmarried, he probably never secured a wife, for no 
woman would consent to live with him. Even the bison avoided 
him because he had a bad smell. Indeed, he was supposed to decay 
inwardly and to be destined to die and blow away. Among these 
Indians deliberate homicide was most unusual, "only five or six 
cases in more than fifty years." 269 

Among the Chinook of Oregon an old man who has a guard- 
ian spirit (and hence is protected against evil influences) takes 
the manslayer in charge and subjects him to various purificatory 
rites. Even after these have been completed people never eat in 
company with a murderer, nor is he ever allowed to see them 
eating. And he may never look at a helpless child. 270 

Where there is no recognized public authority to deal with 
cases of homicide, taboos of the rigorous character that has been 
described doubtless act as a restraining influence upon a would-be 
murderer. No doubt, also, the physical cleansings and purgations 
to which a murderer is subjected have their value when they come 
to be regarded as in some measure an expiation for moral guilt, 
a cleansing from the taint of sin committed. This is certainly true 
of the Moroccan tribes, among whom, as Professor Westermarck 
observes, "the uncleanness of a manslayer is not merely due to 
the blood pollution but also to his sin." Among the Omaha In- 
dians the restrictions laid upon a manslayer had also assumed 
something of an ethical character, because his deed was consid- 
ered offensive to Wakanda. No one would eat with such a per- 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 207 

son, for they said, "If we eat with whom Wakanda hates, for his 
crime, Wakanda will hate us." 

The fear of the wrathful ghost of a slain man or of the con- 
tamination which his death involves for all who have had a hand 
in it is further illustrated by the precautions sometimes taken by 
executioners. Among the Shans of Burma "it was the curious 
custom of executioners to taste the blood of their victims, as they 
believed if this were not done illness and death would follow in 
a short time." 271 Among the Bakongo of the Lower Congo a con- 
victed murderer is taken to the crowded market place and made 
drunk with palm wine ; "then the chief man of the district dances 
round him with a sword, and flashing and waving it about the 
culprit's head he makes a cut in the forehead, and on touching 
the prisoner for the third time, someone rushes out of the crowd, 
and cuts off the murderer's head, and his body is burned to ashes. 
By reducing the body to ashes they believe that they thereby de- 
stroy his spirit, and thus prevent the spirit from seeking revenge 
by bewitching his executioners." 272 By the Ibo and other Delta 
tribes of Southern Nigeria war captives are beheaded on a spe- 
cial slaughter ground some distance from the town. The perform- 
ance of this office is a high honor conferred by the king on 
notables and important personages only. It is necessary for the 
executioner to lick the blood left on the sword blade after the 
decapitation and also to remain in his house for three days. "Dur- 
ing this period he sleeps on the bare floor, eats off broken plat- 
ters, and drinks out of calabashes which are also damaged. On 
the fourth day, dressed in his best clothes and ornamented with a 
number of eagles' feathers and any fineries he may possess, he 
sallies forth and walks around the town, paying visits to all his 
most intimate friends." 278 

Among the Tupi, a Brazilian tribe, a warrior who had put his 
war captive to death, gave himself one more name, painted and 
scarified his body, fasted, and for an entire day lay in his ham- 
mock, where he passed the time shooting into wax with a small 
bow and arrows. The shooting was done in order that his aim 
might not become uncertain because of the shock of the death- 
blow which he had administered. 274 The Guanches of the Canary 
Islands went so far as to taboo a butcher. This functionary was 
always an outcast and generally a criminal, who expiated his crime 
by having to imbue his hands in the blood of innocent animals. 
He could make his wants known only by pointing to the objects 
which he required, for his least touch carried pollution. 275 



208 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Homicide in warfare, though not generally reckoned as mur- 
der according to the more refined ideas of civilized man, by the 
savage is often considered to involve the same dangerous conse- 
quences that attend the taking of human life by private manslay- 
ers. The man who has slain an enemy in fair fight or foul must 
therefore submit to various taboos and undergo a ceremonial 
cleansing from the pollution which invests him, precisely as the 
murderer of a fellow clansman. 276 

The natives of Central Australia do not engage in anything 
which can be described as organized warfare, but there are fre- 
quent brawls between local groups and totem classes, resulting, 
occasionally, in loss of life. The Arunta think that the ghost of a 
man killed openly in a fight or secretly by an avenging party fol- 
lows the manslayers in the shape of a little bird (chichurkna) and 
watches for an opportunity to injure them. If any member of 
the party fails to hear its cry, he will become paralyzed in the 
right arm and shoulder. So at night, when it flies over the camp, 
they have to be wakeful and keep the right arm and shoulder 
carefully concealed from the bird's dangerous glance. When they 
hear its cry their minds are relieved, for now they know that the 
ghost is powerless to do them any harm. 277 

Warriors newly returned from the field of their exploits 
are taboo (ngove) among the Mekeo tribes of British New Guinea. 
They retire to a clubhouse where they pass most of the time 
squatting around the fire. What little food they are allowed to 
eat must not be touched with their hands but must be carefully 
conveyed to their mouths by means of a fork. At the end of their 
seclusion they wash themselves in water in which have been in- 
fused the leaves of certain plants. They may now leave the club- 
house during the day, but must return to it at night. They do 
not engage in any work, or wear their ornaments, or approach 
their wives for several months thereafter. Finally a big feast, 
with the slaughter of many pigs, is held, and the warriors are 
then released from the restrictions laid upon them. 278 Among 
some of the Southern Massim the killer or captor of a man who 
is to be eaten at a cannibal feast goes straight to his house and 
stays there for about a month. He is said to be afraid of the 
"blood" of the dead man, and it is for this reason that he takes 
no part in the feast; if he did, his belly would become "full of 
blood" and he would die. "But there is something more subtle 
than the actual blood, though connected with it, of which he goes 
in terror .... It seemed rather as if certain imperceptible qual- 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 209 

ities emanating from the blood lingered about the scene of the 
cannibal feast, and adhered to a certain extent to those who had 
taken part in it long after all physical traces had been removed, 
and that these influences were specially injurious to the provider 
of the feast." 279 The Orokaiva imposed various restrictions on a 
man who had slain another in a raid. He might not eat any por- 
tion of his victim's body, a prohibition also applying to the slay- 
er's father, mother, and nearest relatives. He might not drink 
pure water out of the river, but only water which had been stirred 
up and made muddy by the feet of a non-slayer. He might 
not eat taro cooked in the pot, but only that which had been 
roasted in an open fire. He might not indulge in sexual inter- 
course. These restrictions lasted for a few days, and then the 
slayer brought them to an end by eating the same kind of stew 
given to initiates at the end of their seclusion. In one instance, 
observed by our authority, the man had to allow himself to be 
thoroughly bitten by ants before consuming the purificatory 
stew. 280 The tribes at the mouth of the Wanigela River require a 
warrior to cleanse himself and his weapons. He is secluded for 
three days. On the fourth day he dons all his best ornaments and 
badges for taking life, sallies forth fully armed, and parades in all 
his finery through the village. On the fifth day a hunt is organized 
and a kangaroo is selected from the game killed. The animal is cut 
open and its liver and spleen are rubbed over the warrior's back. 
He then goes to the nearest water and bathes, while all the young, 
untried warriors swim between his straddled legs in order to gain 
some of his strength and courage. 281 

The Fijians, who enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for 
bloodthirstiness, held in high honor the person who had slain a 
member of a hostile tribe, whether old or young, whether man, 
woman, or child, whether in open fight or by treachery. Never- 
theless, the slayer had to submit to a variety of restrictions. After 
a formal anointing or consecration with red oil, he retired to a 
special hut where he passed the next three nights. During this 
time the hero might not lie down but had to sleep as he sat, nor 
might he change his bark-cloth garment, nor remove the red paint 
from his body, nor enter a house in which there was a woman. 
During the three days he was on an incessant march, followed by 
half a score of young men reddened like himself. 282 

In the Marquesas Islands the warrior's gun or spear with 
which he had killed a man became tapu as well as himself, and 
such a weapon was given the name of its victim. 288 



210 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

All members of a Maori war party were tapu to women until 
the fighting was over. They cooked for themselves during this 
time and took particular pains that their food should not be put 
near a weapon or touched by the right hand. It had to be car- 
ried to the mouth with the left hand. 284 We may surmise that 
the precaution was intended to prevent the right hand, which 
grasped the spear, from being made useless by infected food. The 
warriors, upon their return, were released from the tapu which had 
invested them. Two fires were kindled, and at each of these the 
priestly expert roasted a single sweet potato. The priest ate the 
tuber cooked at one of the fires, and the other was eaten by a 
woman chosen to take part in the ceremony. The performance 
was accompanied by the recital of incantations. The warriors 
were now free to mingle with their fellows and resume their 
normal lives. 285 

The natives of the Pelew Islands used to indulge in constant 
head-hunting, because a human head was deemed by them to be 
indispensable for various ceremonials. The successful hunters, if 
young men who never before had been out on an expedition, 
came under a taboo (meay) and remained secluded in the village 
clubhouse for three days. During this time they might not bathe 
or touch a woman; their diet was rigorously limited; and they 
were required to rub themselves with the leaves of a certain plant 
and to chew betel for purification from pollution. Old head- 
hunters, who had been on many expeditions and had cut off many 
heads, did not observe these restrictions, unless, indeed, their 
hands had actually touched the dead body of the victim. 286 

Among the Basuto, who form the eastern branch of the wide- 
spread Bechuana people, "ablution is especially performed on 
return from battle. It is absolutely necessary that the warriors 
should rid themselves, as soon as possible, of the blood they have 
shed, or the shades of their victims would pursue them incessantly, 
and disturb their slumbers. They go in a procession, and in full 
armour, to the nearest stream. At the moment they enter the 
water a diviner, placed higher up, throws some purifying sub- 
stances into the current. This is, however, not strictly necessary. 
The javelins and battleaxes also undergo the process of wash- 
ing.- 287 

Among the Thonga the slaying of enemies in battle entails 
great glory for the slayers, but also great danger to them. 'They 
have killed. So they are exposed to the mysterious and deadly 
influence of the nuru and must consequently undergo a medical 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 211 

treatment. What is the nuru? Nuru is the spirit of the slain 
which tries to take its revenge on the slayer. It haunts him and 
may drive him to insanity : his eyes swell, protrude, and become 
inflamed." He will go out of his mind, be attacked by giddiness, 
and the thirst for blood may even lead him to fall with murderous 
intent upon members of his own family. To avoid such terrible 
consequences the slayers are placed under many taboos. They 
put on old clothes, eat with special spoons, and from special plates 
and broken pots. They are not allowed to drink water. Their 
food must be cold; if it was hot, it would make them swell in- 
ternally, because, say the natives, "they are hot themselves, they 
are defiled." Sexual relations are absolutely forbidden them. 
After some days a medicine man comes to purify them and "re- 
move their black." When this has been accomplished, all the im- 
plements used by the slayers during their seclusion and all their 
old garments are tied together, hung upon a tree, and left there to 
decay. 288 

A warrior of the Lumbwa tribe, Kenya, who has killed a man, 
returns home screaming the name of the tribe to which his foe 
belonged. The villagers come out to meet him and throw grass 
upon him. He then goes to the river, bathes ceremonially, and 
plasters red and white earth on his head and body. His shield and 
spear are similarly daubed with mud. For the next month he lives 
more or less in seclusion. During this time women and children 
may not eat of the leavings of his food, and they shun his pres- 
ence. When the month is up the killer seeks a strange woman, 
preferably a woman thought to be barren, and has connection 
with her; the husband, should he be cognizant of the act, shows 
no resentment. The warrior's purification is now completed. 289 

The Kavirondo warrior is rubbed with medicine (generally 
the dung of goats) "to prevent the spirit of the deceased from 
worrying the man by whom he has been slain." 290 The Ja-Luo 
require a successful warrior to shave his head and hang a fowl's 
head from his neck. This must be done before he enters his vil- 
lage. He now returns home and gives a big feast to propitiate the 
ghost of the slain man. 291 

The Jivaro of eastern Ecuador and Peru are at the present 
time the most warlike of all the Indian tribes in South America. 
So assiduously do they devote themselves to the military art that 
they are in some danger of wiping themselves out. With the 
Jivaro, however, the successful warrior is subjected to many re- 
strictions. In the evening of the day their enemies have been 



212 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

killed all the men who have taken part in the massacre slightly 
prick themselves over the whole body, using for this purpose a 
painted arrow. This is done to protect them against the spirits 
of the slain enemies. That night the slayer will dream, and in 
the dream he meets the spirit, who says to him, "Come, let us 
dance together." The warrior's own soul or spirit then answers, 
"No, I cannot dance, for I have my body full of sores/' If he 
has not pricked himself as described, he will in the dream accept 
the invitation of the enemy spirit and then he will soon die. As 
soon as the Jivaro has dispatched his foe he is allowed to eat only 
boiled and mashed manioc, and this food he must cook himself, 
for no other man and still less a woman would be allowed to pre- 
pare it. When the warriors eat they never touch the manioc with 
their fingers, but use small wooden pins to pick up the food. Since 
their hands had been polluted with the blood of their enemies, 
the food would share the pollution if they touched it, and they 
would expose themselves to death. Moreover, the warriors are 
not allowed to bathe or wash themselves in any way until they 
reach home. Until a certain feast is celebrated, several months 
later, they may not have sexual intercourse or even sleep in the 
same room with a woman. 202 

The Pima Indians of Arizona observed no custom with greater 
strictness than that which required purification of the warrior 
who had slain his foe in battle. "Attended by an old man, the 
warrior who had to expiate the crime of blood-guilt retired to the 
groves along the river bottom at some distance from the villages or 
wandered about the adjoining hills. During the period of sixteen 
days he was not allowed to touch his head with his fingers, or his 
hair would turn white. If he touched his face it would become 
wrinkled. He kept a stick to scratch his head with .... He then 
bathed in the river, no matter how cold the temperature. The 
feast of victory, which his friends were observing in the meantime 
at the villages, lasted eight days. At the end of that time', or when 
his period of retirement was half cpmpleted, the warrior might 
go to his home to get a fetish made from the hair of the Apache 
whom he had killed. The hair was wrapped in eagle down and 
tied with a cotton string and kept in a long medicine basket. He 
drank no water for the first two days and fasted for the first four. 
After that time he was supplied with pinole by his attendant, who 
also instructed him as to his future conduct, telling him that he 
must henceforth stand back until all others were served when 
partaking of food and drink .... The explanation offered for 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 213 

the observance of this law of lustration is that if it is not obeyed 
the warrior's limbs will become stiffened or paralyzed/' 293 

The Maricopa of southern Arizona exhibited great fear of 
their slain enemies, and all persons who had had contact with them 
submitted to a stringent purification for sixteen days. Purifica- 
tion was also required of those who had taken women and chil- 
dren as captives. 294 Chickasaw warriors became unclean by the 
shedding of blood and had to observe a three days' fast. 295 A 
Natchez warrior, who for the first time had taken a prisoner or 
cut off a scalp, was required to refrain for a month from seeing 
his wife or eating meat. Unless these taboos were observed, the 
soul of the man whom he had killed in battle or of the prisoner 
whom he had burnt would occasion his death. Failing such an out- 
come, he would probably die from the first wound received in an- 
other fight, or at least would gain no further advantage over the 
enemy. 296 A Thompson Indian who had killed an enemy blackened 
his face with charcoal. If this were not done, the spirit of his 
victim would cause him to become blind. 297 

The Kwakiutl of British Columbia, with whom cannibalism 
was a ceremonial rite, subjected the eaters of human flesh to many 
restrictions. They were not allowed to work, gamble, or approach 
their wives for the space of a year, and for four months of this 
time they had to live alone in the bedrooms. When they quitted 
the house for a necessary purpose, they used a secret door in the 
rear, instead of the ordinary exit. During the four months of se- 
clusion each man in eating had a spoon, dish, and kettle of his 
own, these utensils being thrown away at the end of the period. 
Each man kept a copper nail to scratch his head with; were his 
own fingernails to touch his skin they would drop off. He could 
drink not more than four mouthfuls of water at a time. For the 
first sixteen days after eating human flesh he was forbidden to 
eat any hot food, and for the whole of the four months to cool 
hot food by blowing on it with his breath. When his period of 
seclusion was over, he pretended to have forgotten the ordinary 
ways of men and had to learn everything anew. 208 

The fear of the volitional activity of ghosts and evil spirits 
and the fear of death itself as a dangerous contaminating influ- 
ence thus account for innumerable mortuary taboos observed by 
primitive peoples. Such taboos and the beliefs upon which they 
rest are widespread throughout the aboriginal world. They have 
sometimes been useful by imposing a sort of quarantine upon the 
persons of the sick and upon human bodies in process of dissolu- 



214 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

tion. They have also helped to inculcate a respect for human 
life, as the result of the restrictions laid upon manslayers. On the 
other side, and greatly weighing down the scales against them, 
must be set the economic waste which they have needlessly sanc- 
tioned and the pains, penalties, and sacrifices which they have 
needlessly involved. 



NOTES TO CHAPTER V 

1 See Robert Hertz, "Contribution a une etude sur la representation collec- 
tive de la morte," L'annee sociologique, X, 48-137 (reprinted in Melanges de 
sociology religieuse et folklore [Paris, 1928]); E. S. Hartland, "Death and 
Disposal of the Dead (Introductory)," Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and 
Ethics, IV, 411-44; Edward Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the 
Moral Ideas (London, 1906-1908), II, 515-52; A. van Gennep, Les rites de pas- 
sage (Paris, 1909), pp. 209-36; L. L6vy-Bruhl, How Natives Think (London, 
1926), pp. 276-S4, 301-22; idem, The "Soul" of the Primitive (London, 1928), 
pp. 220-61 ; idem, Primitives and the Supernatural (London, 1936), pp. 248-64; 
Sir J. G. Frazer, "On Certain Burial Customs as Illustrative of the Primitive 
Theory of the Soul," Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XV (1886), 64- 
104 (reprinted in Garnered Sheaves [London, 1931], pp. 3-50); idem, The Be- 
lief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead (London, 1913), I, 31-58; 
idem, The Fear of the Dead in Primitive Religion (3 vols., London, 1933-1936). 

2 A. W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (London, 
1904), p. 450. 

8 George Turner, Samoa (London, 1884), pp. 336 f. 

* Richard Taylor, Te Ika A Maui (2d ed., London, 1870), p. 170. 

5 D. C. Worcester, The Philippine Islands and Their People (New York, 
1898), p. 427. 

F. H. Sawyer, The Inhabitants of the Philippines (London, 1900), p. 277. 

7 John Davy, An Account of the Interior of Ceylon and of Its Inhabitants 
(London, 1821), p. 289. 

J. Sibree, in Folk-Lore Record, II (1879), 42. 

9 Minnie C. Cartwright, "Folk-Lore of the Basuto," F oik-Lore, XV (1904), 
255 f. 

10 L. S. B. Leakey, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, LX 
(1930), 204 f. A similar custom prevails among the Akikuyu. With them, how- 
ever, the removal of the sufferer to the wilderness is said to be done with his 
full consent. If he recovers, he is restored to his home (W. S. Routledge and 
Katherine Routledge, With a Prehistoric People [London, 1910], p. 170). Ac- 
cording to Father C. Cagnolo, it often happens that sick persons are thrown 
out into the bush and left to die when they are not really mortally ill (The 
Akikuyu [Nyeri, Kenya, 1933], p. 142). 

11 Jakob Spieth, Die Ewe-Stdmme (Berlin, 1906), p. 632. 

12 W. B. Grubb, An Unknown People in an Unknown Land (London, 1911), 
pp. 161 f. The "cruel belief referred to is that terrible misfortunes will result 
if a dead man remains unburied when the sun goes down (p. 160). It sometimes 
happens that a person is buried before he is quite dead (G. Kiirze, "Sitten und 
Gebrauche der Lengua-Indianer," Mitteilungen der geographischen Gesellschaft 
[fur Thuringen] zu Jena, XXIII [1905], 20). 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 215 

18 Alcide d'Orbigny, L'homme americain (de I'AmMque meridional*) 
(Paris, 1839), II, 241. 

" K. Sapper, in Globus, LXXVIII (1900), 273. 

10 H. C. Yarrow, "A Further Contribution to the Study of the Mortuary 
Customs of the North American Indians," First Annual Report of the Bureau 
of Ethnology, p. 123, quoting Dr. John Menard. 

16 R. B. Dixon, in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, 
XVII, 245. 

17 J. G. Swan, in Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Vol. XVI, No. 
220, p. 82. 

18 F. Boas, in Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 612. 
18 R. B. Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria (Melbourne, 1878), I, 104. 

20 C. G. Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea (Cambridge, 
1910), p. 161. Aina also conveys the idea of "sacred," "set apart," "charged with 
virtue" (p. 101, note 2) ; it means, therefore, "taboo." 

21 Bronislaw Malinowski, The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western 
Melanesia (New York, 1929), pp. 150, 450. 

22Lorimer Fison, Tales from Old Fiji (London, 1904), p. 163. 

23 Laura Thompson, Fijian Frontier (New York, 1940), p. 130. 

24 Turner, Samoa, p. 145. 

25 John Martin, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands .... from 
the Extensive Communications of Mr. William Mariner (3d ed., Edinburgh, 
1827), I, 318, and II, 187. 

26 James Cowan, The Maoris of New Zealand (Christchurch, New Zealand, 
1910), p. 115. According to an early authority, the Maori might not eat on or 
near any place where a corpse had been buried, nor might they take a meal in a 
canoe while passing such a place (J. S. Polack, Manners and Customs of the 
New Zealanders [London, 1840], I, 239). When the Maori practiced crema- 
tion, a corpse would be burned in some rocky or sterile spot where there was 
no likelihood of the ground ever being cultivated (E. Best, "Cremation amongst 
the Maori Tribes of New Zealand," Man, XIV [1914], 111). 

27 J. M. Garvan, The Manobos of Mindanao (Memoirs of the National 
Academy of Sciences, Vol. XXIII) (Washington, D.C., 1931), pp. 121 f. 

28 A. Grandidier, "La mort et les funerailles a Madagascar," L'Anthro- 
pologie, XXIII (1912), 322 if. Young people are not allowed to look at a 
corpse. In former days no one under forty years of age might enter a tomb at 
a funeral (H. F. Standing, "Malagasy 'Fady,' " Antananarivo Annual and 
Madagascar Magazine, No. 7 [1883], p. 73). 

20 E. Casalis, The Basutos (London, 1861), pp. 203 f. f 256 f. The feet of a 
man who had stepped over a grave were singed in a purificatory flame (D. F. 
Ellenberger, History of the Basuto f Ancient and Modern [London, 1912], 
p. 261). 

80 Gustav Fritsch, Die Eingeborenen Sud-Afrika's (Breslau, 1872), p. 201. 

81 Alois Musil, The Manners and Customs of the Rwala Bedouins (New 
York, 1928), p. 670. 

82 W. M. Gabb, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 
XIV (1874-1875), 504 f. 

33 J. G. Swan, in Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Vol. XVI, No. 
220, pp. 84 f. 

8 * C. Willoughby, in Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1886, 
Part I, p. 277. 



216 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

85 M. Eells, in First Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 176. 

86 E. W. Hawkes, The Labrador Eskimo (Geological Survey Memoir, No. 
91) (Ottawa, 1916), pp. 118 f. 

87 David Cranz, Historie von Gronland (Barby and Leipzig, 1765), I, 300. 

88 F. Boas, in Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, pp. 612 f. 

39 E. W. Nelson, in Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American 
Ethnology, Part I, p. 314. 

40 W. Bogoras, in American Anthropologist (n.s., 1901), III, 95 f. 

41 W. G. Sumner, "The Yakuts. Abridged from the Russian of Sieroshev- 
ski," Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXI (1900), 100. 

42 Sir Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, The Native Tribes of Central 
Australia (London, 1899), p. 498. 

48 Sir Baldwin Spencer, Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Aus- 
tralia (London, 1914), p. 254. 

44 Tom Petrie's Reminiscences of Early Queensland (Brisbane, 1904), p. 36. 

45 James Chalmers and W. W. Gill, Work and Adventure in New Guinea 
(London, 1885), p. 102. 

46 F. E. AVilliams, Papuans of the Trans-Fly (Oxford, 1936), p. 366. 

47 G. F. Angas, Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand 
(London, 1847), I, 279. 

48 1. H. N. Evans, Among the Primitive Peoples of Borneo (London, 1922), 
p. 163. 

49 A. Hale, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XV (1886), 291. 

so w. W. Skeat and C. D. Blagden, Pagan Races of the Malay Peninsula 
(London, 1906), II, 111. The house of a deceased person is also abandoned and, 
as a rule, the villagers decamp in a body (loc. at.). 

i E. H. Man, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XII (1883), 145. 
According to A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, the natives may return to the deserted 
spot after the period of mourning is over (The Andaman Islanders [Cambridge, 
1933], p. 108). 

82 E. H. Man, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XV (1886), 450. 

58 C. G. Seligman and Brenda J. Seligman, The Veddas (Cambridge, 1911), 
pp. 123, 125. Cf. J. Bailey, in Transactions of the Ethnological Society (n.s., 
1863), II, 296. 

54 James Sibree, "Malagasy Folk- Lore and Popular Superstitions," Folk- 
Lore Record, II (1879), 41; idem, The Great African Island (London, 1880), 
pp. 290 f. 

88 H. A. Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed., London, 1927), 
I, 319. 

56 L. S. B. Leakey, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, LX 
(1930), 204 f. 

"Gerhard Lindblom, The Akamba (Uppsala, 1920), pp. 100 f. 

88 John Roscoe, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XXVII 
(1907), 102. 

89 Idem, The Northern Bantu (Cambridge, 1915), p. 129. 

60 Franz Stuhlmann, Mit Emin Pascha ins Herz von Afrika (Berlin, 1894) > 
pp. 309 f. 

01 Oskar Lenz, Skiszen aus Westafrika (Berlin, 1878), pp. 208 f. 
62 Grubb, op. cit., p. 58. 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 217 

68 W. E. Roth, "An Inquiry into the Animism and Folk-Lore of the Guiana 
Indians," Thirtieth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, p. 159, 
citing J. Gumilla, Historia natural del Rio Orinoco (Barcelona, 1791), I, 206 f. 

64 E. Conzemius, in Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology. No. 106, 
p. 153. 

C. Leden, in Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, XLIV (1912), 816. 

60 Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria, Vol. I, p. xxx. 

67 Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea, pp. 525, 631 f. Pro- 
fessor Seligman thinks it probable that the house is destroyed, not on account 
of any fear of death as such, but because of the feeling that "any intimate asso- 
ciation with objects connected with the dead of foreign clans is to be avoided at 
almost any cost. It may be suggested that the house of a married individual 
has been so intimately associated with the deceased man or woman, a member of 
a strange clan, that it may be regarded as having in some measure become 
identified with the dead stranger so that after his death it becomes unfit to 
continue in existence among the folk of the hamlet" (p. 13, note 2). 

8 Williams, Papuans of the Trans-Fly, p. 376. 

60 C. Keysser, in R. Neuhauss, Deutsch Neu-Guinta (Berlin, 1911), III, 83. 

TO Taylor, Te Ika A Maui (2d ed.), p. 221. Cf. Polack, Manners and Cus- 
toms of the New Zealanders, I, HOf. 

71 August Erdland, Die Mar -shall- Insulaner (Munster in Westfalen, 1914), 
p. 325. 

72 Sir Spenser St. John, Life in the Forests of the Far East (2d ed., Lon- 
don, 1863), I, 175. The village itself is tabooed for a day following the death 
(I, 173). 

73 Worcester, The Philippine Islands and Their People, p. 427. The Tag- 
banua of Palawan tear down a house in which a death has occurred, while those 
of Busuanga always abandon such a house (pp. 108 f., 496). 

7 *John Batchelor, The Ainu and Their Folk-Lore (London, 1901), pp. 
130 f. According to another account, the house where a man dies is deserted. 
His nets, cooking pot, implements, and household articles, though of great value 
to his neighbors, would never be touched by them (S. C. Holland, in Journal 
of the Anthropological Institute, III [1874], 238). 

75 Peter Kolben, The Present State of the Cape of Good Hope (London, 
1731), I, 138. 

76 Minnie C. Cartwright, "Folk-Lore of the Basuto," Folk-Lore, XV 
(1904), 258. 

77 Charles Bullock, The Mashona (Cape Town and Johannesburg, [1928]), 
p. 269. 

78 Lionel Decle, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXIII (1894), 
420. 

"Idem, Three Years in Savage Africa (London, 1898), p. 79. 
so W. A. Elmslie, Among the Wild Ngoni (London, 1899), p. 71. 

81 C. W. Hobley, Bantu Beliefs and Magic (London, 1922), pp. 122 f. Else- 
where Mr. Hobley suggests that these practices may in some measure account 
for the low type of domestic architecture among the Akikuyu and Akamba. 
There is little incentive for the people to build large permanent structures which 
may have to be deserted or destroyed a^t any moment (Journal of the Royal 
thropological Institute, XLI [1911], 406). 

82 Roscoe, The Northern Bantu, p. 227. 

83 J. F. Cunningham, Uganda and Its Peoples (London, 1905), p. 130. 



218 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

84 J. H. Weeks, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XXXIX 
(1909), 109. 

85 A. B. Ellis, The Yoruba-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West 
Africa (London, 1894), pp. 159 f. 

86 P. Hyades and J. Deniker, in Mission scientifique du Cap Horn, VII, 
379. 

87 Sir E. F. Im Thurn, Among the Indians of Guiana (London, 1883), p. 225. 

88 Carl Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico (New York, 1903), I, 384. 

89 Lucile Hooper, in University of California Publications in American 
Archaeology and Ethnology, XVI, 344. 

90 C Mindeleff, "Navaho Houses," Seventeenth Annual Report of the Bu- 
reau of American Ethnology, p. 475. 

91 H. Gillman, in Proceedings of the American Association for the Ad- 
vancement of Science, XXXIV (1885), 416. 

9 * G. B. Grinnell, Blackfoot Lodge Tales (New York, 1892), p. 193. 

98 J. Teit, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, II, 
331. 

9 * E. W. Nelson, in Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American 
Ethnology, Part I, p. 440. 

98 W. G. Sumner, "The Yakuts. Abridged from the Russian of Sieroshev- 
ski," Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXI (1900), 100. 

98 Marie A. Czaplicka, Aboriginal Siberia (Oxford, 1914), p. 144, citing 
S. P. Krasheninnikoff. 

97 See Frazer, Fear of the Dead in Primitive Religion, II, 119-38; Levy- 
Bruhl, How Natives Think, pp. 323-37. 

98 Howitt, Native Tribes of South-East Australia, pp. 461 f., 464. Cf. 
Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria, I, 104. Some tribes of New South Wales 
hang up the weapons, rugs, nets, and other belongings of a dead person on 
trees for about two months, then wash them and distribute them among the 
relatives (F. Bonney, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XIII [1884], 
135). The purificatory intent of this procedure is obvious. 

99 James Dawson, Australian Aborigines (Melbourne, 1881), p. 63. 

100 G. Home and G. Aiston, Savage Life in Central Australia (London, 
1924), p. 152. 

101 Spencer, Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Australia, p. 243. 

102 C. S. Myers and A. C. Haddon, in Reports of the Cambridge Anthro- 
pological Expedition to Torres Straits, VI, 159. 

103 A. C. Haddon, ibid., V, 250. Our informant adds that "the food was 
destroyed for the sake of the dead man ; as the natives said, it was 'like goodbye 1 . 1 ' 

104 Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea, p. 274. 

105 G. Landtman, The Kvwai Papuans of British New Guinea (London, 
1927), p. 263. 

^B. Hagen, Unter den Papua's (Wiesbaden, 1899), pp. 258 f. 

107 D. Jenness and A. Ballantyne, The Northern LfEntrecasteaux (Oxford, 
1920), p. 114. 

!os R. Parkinson, Dreissig Jahre in der Sudsee (Stuttgart, 1907), p. 185. 

109 R. Thurnwald, in Zeitschrift fur vergleichende Rechtswissenschaft, 
XXIII (1910), 346. 

"OB. T. Somerville, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXVI 
(1897), 403. 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 219 

111 C. E. Fox, The Threshold of the Pacific (London, 1924), p. 211. The 
custom of cutting down a dead man's fruit trees is found elsewhere in the 
Solomon Islands, as in Florida and Mala. This is not done with any notion 
that such things follow a man in any ghostly form, but, according to the na- 
tives, as a mark of respect and affection (R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians 
[Oxford, 1891], pp. 255, 263). It would seem that here, as in Mabuiag, Torres 
Straits, the original significance of the custom has been forgotten. 

112 C. B. Humphreys, The Southern New Hebrides (Cambridge, 1926), 
p. 61. 

113 Ibid., pp. 152 f. There is some doubt whether this custom is observed 
by commoners as well as by chiefs. 

114 Lambert, Mceurs et superstitions des Neo-Caledoniens (Noumea, 1900), 
p. 235. 

115 Turner, Samoa, p. 306. 

118 E. S. C. Handy, "The Native Culture in the Marquesas,' 1 Bernice P. 
Bishop Museum Bulletin, No. 9, pp. 76, 261 f. 

117 Polack, Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders t II, llOf., 230. 

118 E. H. Man, The Nicobar Islands and Their People (London, [1932]), 
pp. 131 f., 138. In Car Nicobar some of the palms which a rich man possesses 
will be destroyed at his death, while others "will be made taboo for a number 
of years, and so they will be 'unclean* and may not be used for food or drink 
by any of the inhabitants" (George Whitehead, In the Nicobar Islands [London, 
1924], p. 194). 

119 F. Fawcett, in Journal of the Anthropological Society of Bombay, I 
(1886), 249. 

120 Seligman and Seligman, The Veddas, p. 123. 

121 G. ( McCa.ll Theal, Ethnography and Condition of Africa before A.D. 1505 
(London, 1919), I, 221 f. Cf. James Macdonald, in Journal of the Anthropologi- 
cal Institute, XIX (1890), 276; Dudley Kidd, The Essential Kafir (2d ed., Lon- 
don, 1925), pp. 81 f., 248. 

122 S. S. Dornan, Pygmies and Bushmen of the Kalahari (London, 1925), 
p. 145. 

123 Rene Caillie, Travels through Central Africa to Timbuctoo (London, 
1830), I, 164 f. 

124 J. H. Weeks, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XXXIX 
(1909), 453. 

125 Sir H. H. Johnston, George Grenfell and the Congo (London, 1908), 
II, 652. 

126 G. von Hagen, in Baesslcr-Archiv, II (1911), 108. 

127 Ellis, The Yoruba-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, 
p. 159. 

128 Martin Gusinde, Die Selk'nam (Modling bei Wien, 1931), p. 552; idem, 
Die Yamana (1937), p. 1109. Cf. George Catlin, Last Rambles among the Indians 
of the Rocky Mountains and the Andes (London, 1868), p. 292. 

129 Alcide d'Orbigny, Voyage dans I'Amtrique meridionale (Paris and 
Strasbourg, 1843), II, 99 f., 183. 

isoGrubb, op. cit., pp. 122 f., 169. 

131 Theodor Koch, Zum Animismus der siidamerikanischen Indianer (In- 
ternationales Archiv fur Ethnographie, Vol. XIII, Supplement) (Leiden, 1900), 
p. 61. Cf. Martin Dobrizhoffer, An Account of the Abipones (London, 1822), 
II, 273. 



220 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

182 Karl von den Steinen, Unter den Naturvb'lkern Zentral-Brasiliens 
(Berlin, 1894), p. 502. 

188 Alexander von Humboldt, Reise in die Aequinoctial-Gegenden des 
neuen Continents (Stuttgart, 1860), IV, 156. 

184 E. Nordenskiold, "Die religiosen Vorstellungen der Itonoma Indianer 
in Bolivia," Zeitschrijt fur Ethnologie, XLVII (1915), 106 f. The Itonoma have 
been Christianized for two centuries. 

185 Rafael Karsten, The Toba Indians of the Bolivian Gran Chaco (Acta 
Academics Aboensis, Humaniora, IV) (Abo, 1923), pp. 95 f. 

186 E. Conzemius, in Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 
106, pp. 155 f. 

187 A. Hrdlicka, "Physiological and Medical Observations among the In- 
dians of Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico," ibid. f No. 34, p. 230. 

188 Frank Russell, in Twenty-sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ameri- 
can Ethnology, pp. 194 f. 

189 A. B. Reagan, in Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of 
Natural History, XXXI, 317. 

* 4 <> Leslie Spier, ibid., XXIX, pp. 233, 292 f. 

141 Stephen Powers, Tribes of California (Contributions to North American 
Ethnology, Vol. Ill) (Washington, D.C., 1877), p. 206. Among the Northern 
Maidu, "owing to the general custom of burning most, if not all, of the property 
of a man at his death, there was little that could be inherited." Such things as 
were not destroyed passed by inheritance to his surviving kinsfolk, especially to 
his oldest son (R. B. Dixon, in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural His- 
tory, XVII, 226). By far the most important of the Maidu mortuary ceremonies 
is the annual "burning" by mourners of various articles skins, hides, dresses, 
caps, beads, necklaces, baskets in honor of and for the use of the dead. The 
offerings are often so numerous that the fire is nearly smothered by the great 
amount of things thrown into it. Each family sacrifices to its own relatives. 
After doing so for three or four years the members of the family seem to feel 
that the welfare of their dead has been sufficiently assured, and, as a rule, the 
sacrifice will be discontinued (pp. 245 ff.). 

142 C. Willoughby, in Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 
1886, Part I, pp. 276 f. 

148 Ross Cox, Adventures on the Columbia River (London, 1831), II, 388. 

144 J. Teit, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, II, 
331. 

148 W. Thalbitzer, "Ethnographical Collections from East Greenland," Med- 
delelser om Grpnland, XXXIX (1914), 524. With reference to the Central Es- 
kimo, F. Boas declares that since a great part of a man's personal property is 
destroyed at his death or placed in his grave, "the objects which may be acquired 
by inheritance are few" (Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 
p. 580). 

146 John Murdock, in Ninth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 
p. 425. It is probable, thinks our authority, that the man's friends manage to 
remove the more valuable articles from his house before his death takes place 
(loc. cit.). 

147 Czaplicka, Aboriginal Siberia, p. 147. 

148 In the D'Entrecasteaux Islands engaged couples do not use their real 
names when speaking to each other, and invent fancy names instead. "There 
are some who believe that the seed taro will wither and die if this name taboo 
be broken" (Jenness and Ballantyne, The Northern D'Entrecasteaux, p. 98). 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 221 

Among the Naga tribes of Manipur each person has a private name, which he 
must keep strictly secret. If it becomes known, the whole village is tabooed, or 
genna, for two days, and a feast must be provided at the expense of the offender 
(T. C. Hodson, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXVI [1906], 97). 

149 See Sir J. G. Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of the Soul (The Golden 
Bough, 3d ed., Part II) (London, 1911), pp. 349-74. 

150 J. Barnard, in Report of the Second Meeting of the Australasian Associa- 
tion for the Advancement of Science (1890), p. 605; cf. James Bonwick, Daily 
Life and Origin of the Tasmanians (London, 1870), p. 183. 

151 R. H. Holden, in George Taplin (ed.), The Folklore, Manners, and 
Customs of the South Australian Aborigines (Adelaide, 1879), p. 27. 

152 Carl Lumholtz, Among Cannibals (New York, 1889), p. 279. 

153 W. E. Roth, in North Queensland Ethnography Bulletin, No. 5, pp. 20, 
37. At Cape Bedford, when an aboriginal unintentionally makes use of a for- 
bidden name (such as that of a dead person), he will immediately correct himself, 
saying "my mouth is foul," and then expectorate (ibid., No. 11, Records of the 
Australian Museum, Vol. VII, No. 2, p. 78). 

164 Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, p. 498. 

186 E. Clement, in Internationales Archiv fur Ethnographie, XVI (1904), 9. 

156 C. W. M. Hart, "Personal Names among the Tiwi," Oceania, I (1930- 
1931), 288. 

157 C. W. Abel, Savage Life in New Guinea (London, [1901]), p. 89. There 
are certainly exceptions to this rule. The tribes at the mouth of the Wanigela 
River take every opportunity to report a dead man's name. It is also customary 
for his relations to adopt his name, prefixed by a title denoting their relation- 
ship to him (R. E. Guise, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXVIII 
[1899], 211 ff.). 

188 W. E. Bromilow, Twenty Years among Primitive Papuans (London, 
1929), pp. 89 f . 

189 K. Vetter, in Nachrichten uber Kaiser IVilhelms-Land und den Bis- 
marck- Arc hipel, XIII (1897), 92. 

160 Jenness and Ballantyne, op. cit., pp. 91 f . 

161 R. Thurnwald, in Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, XLII (1910), 129. 

362 E. H. Gomes, Seventeen Years among the Sea Dyaks of Borneo (Lon- 
don, 1911), pp. 320 f. 

^3 w. H. R. Rivers, The Todas (London, 1906), pp. 462 f. 
* Ibid., p. 406. 

168 S. S. Dornan, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLVII 
(1917), 52. 

166 Minnie C. Cartwright, "Folk-Lore of the Basuto," Folk-Lore, XV 
(1904), 258. 

i 7 A. C. Hollis, The Nandi (Oxford, 1909), p. 71. 
"*Idem, The Masai (Oxford, 1905), pp. 304 f. 

160 Rafael Karsten, The Civilisation of the South American Indians (Lon- 
don, 1926), p. 205. The Lengua Indians refer to a dead man as "he who was" 
(Grubb, op. cit., p. 170). 

170 A. L. Kroeber, "Notes on California Folk-Lore," Journal of American 
Folk-Lore, XIX (1906), 143. The Hupa tell of a time when so many names 
were tied up by wholesale deaths that it was necessary to abrogate for a while 
the rule forbidding their use and allow them to become again current (P. E. 



222 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Goddard, in University of California Publications in American Archaeology 
and Ethnology, I, 74). 

171 P. Beveridge, in Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New 
South Wales, XVII (1883), 65. 

178 A. S. Gatschet, The Klamath Indians of Southwestern Oregon (Contri- 
butions to North American Ethnology, Vol. II, Part I) (Washington, D.C., 1890), 
p. xli. 

" See H. Webster, Rest Days (New York, 1916), pp. 62-74. On fasting 
and restrictions in diet after a death see Westermarck, Origin and Development 
of the Moral Ideas, II, 298-309. Nearly all the instances cited by Professor 
Westermarck refer to the obligatory fasting of a widow or a widower and of 
the near relatives of the deceased. There seem to be few cases where the cus- 
tom is socialized. Among the Abipones, when a chief died, all members of the 
tribe abstain for a month from eating fish, their principal dainty (P. F. X. de 
Charlevoix, Histoire du Paraguay [Paris, 1756], I, 468. Among the Upper 
Thompson Indians of British Columbia "nobody was allowed to eat, drink, or 
smoke in the open air after sunset (others say after dusk) before the burial, 
else the ghost would harm them" (J. Teit, in Memoirs of the American Museum 
of Natural History, II, 328). 

174 L. Nyuak, in Anthropos, I (1906), 413. 

175 Gomes, op. dt., p. 139. 

176 T. C. Hodson, The Naga Tribes of Manipur (London, 1911), pp. 100, 
152, 166, 174; cf. idem, "Mortuary Ritual and Eschatological Beliefs among 
the Hill Tribes of Assam," Archiv fur Religionswissenschaft, XII (1909), 449. 

177 H. F. Standing, "Malagasy 'Fady/ " Antananarivo Annual and Mada- 
gascar Magazine, No. 7 (1883), p. 74. Some necessary occupations could not be 
entirely abandoned during the mourning period, but they were not called by the 
usual names; they were referred to by such expressions as "going into the 
country" or "settling down in the fields" (J. Sibree, "Curious Words and Cus- 
toms Connected with Chieftainship and Royalty among the Malagasy," Journal 
of the Anthropological Institute, XXI [1891], 219). 

i 78 Kidd, The Essential Kafir (2d ed.), p. 253. 

179 Lieutenant Farewell, in W. F. W. Owen, Narrative of Voyages to Ex- 
plore the Shores of Africa, Arabia, and Madagascar (London, 1833), II, 397. 

180 Routledge and Routledge, With a Prehistoric People, p. 172. 

181 C. W. Hobley, Eastern Uganda (Occasional Papers of the Royal An- 
thropological Institute, No. 1), (London, 1902), p. 28. 

182 Sir H. H. Johnston, The Uganda Protectorate (London, 1902), II, 
176 ff. 

183 Werner Munzinger, Ostafrikanische Studien (2d ed., Basel, 1883), p. 
528 (Barea and Kunama). 

184 F. Boas, in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, XV, 
121 f . 

186 E. W. Nelson, in Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American 
Ethnology, Part I, pp. 312 ff., 319. The Bering Strait Eskimo observe various 
precautions after killing food animals such as salmon and whales, so that their 
shades may not be offended and bring bad luck upon the killer and his people. 
A hunter who has taken part in the capture of a white whale must not do any 
work for the next four days, that being the time during which the ghost of the 
whale is supposed to stay with its body. Moreover, the use of all iron instru- 
ments is forbidden in the village during these four days. Anyone so impious 
as to cut a whale's body with an iron ax will die. These Eskimo have a special 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 223 

name "for a spot of ground when certain things are tabooed, or where there is 
to be feared any evil influence caused by the presence of offended shades of 
men or animals, or through the influence of other supernatural means. This 
ground is sometimes considered unclean, and to go upon it would bring misfor- 
tune to the offender, producing sickness, death, or lack of success in hunting or 
fishing. The same term is also applied to ground where certain animals have 
been killed or have died." In the latter case the ground is thought dangerous 
only to the person who performs there some forbidden act, such as chopping 
wood with an iron ax on the shore where a dead white whale has been beached. 
Death is also the consequence of cutting wood with an iron ax where salmon 
are being dressed (pp. 438, 440). 

188 W. Bogoras, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, 
XI, 521. 

" 7 W. Jochelson, ibid., X, 104 f . 

188 See Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of the Soul, pp. 138-45. The mourning 
costume has been explained as originally a disguise adopted to protect the sur- 
vivors from the ghost of the recently deceased (idem, "On Certain Burial Cus- 
toms as Illustrative of the Primitive Theory of the Soul," in Garnered Sheaves, 
pp. 13, 42 ff.). According to E. S. Hartland, the primary purpose of mourning 
costume (or absence of costume) is to distinguish those who are under taboo 
from their fellows ; "it is the sign of the plague" ("The Philosophy of Mourn- 
ing Clothes," in Ritual and Belief [London, 1914], p. 235). Westermarck sug- 
gests that since a mourner is more or less polluted for a certain period clothes 
worn by him then would also become polluted and could not be used afterward ; 
hence old clothes will be worn or none at all (Origin and Development of the 
Moral Ideas, II, 545). 

189 Angas, Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand, I, 95. 
180 S. Gason, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXIV (1895), 

171. 

191 Spencer, Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Australia, pp. 
242 f. 

192 Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea, p. 611. 
198 F. E. Williams, Drama of Orokolo (Oxford, 1940), p. 114. 
194 Idem, Papuans of the Trans-Fly, p. 366. 

198 Codrington, The Melanesians, p. 281. 

196 A. B. Deacon, Malekula, a yanishing People of the New Hebrides 
(London, 1934), p. 572. 

197 Lambert, M&urs et superstitions des Neo-Caledoniens, pp. 236 ff . 

198 Fison, Tales from Old Fiji, p. 167; cf. idem, in Journal of the Anthro- 
pological Institute, X (1881), 139. 

190 Turner, Samoa, p. 145. Cf . George Brown (Melanesians and Poly- 
nesians [London, 1910], p. 402), who describes the undertakers as being paia, 
or "sacred." 

200 William Ellis, Polynesian Researches (2d ed., London, 1831), I, 403. At 
the funeral rites observed by the Tahitians for chiefs and persons of rank the 
corpse was placed on a platform and underneath this a hole was dug in the 
earth. The priest then prayed to the god, "by whom it was supposed the spirit 
of the deceased had been required," that his "sins" might be deposited in the 
hole and not be attached to the survivors. As soon as the ceremony was over, 
those who had touched the body or the garments of the dead man fled pre- 
cipitately into the sea to cleanse themselves from pollution. They also cast 
into the sea the clothes worn by them when performing the funeral offices. 



224 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Having finished their ablutions, they gathered a few pieces of coral from the 
bottom of the sea and returned to the platform. They addressed the corpse, 
saying, "With you may the pollution be." Then they threw down the coral on 
the top of the hole that had been dug to receive all defilement connected with 
the dead (I, 401 ff.). 

201 Old New Zealand, by a Pakeka Maori (London, 1884), p. 105; cf. Ed- 
ward Tregear, The Maori Race (Wanganui, New Zealand, 1904), p. 200. 

202 S. Walleser, "Religiose Anschauungen und Gebrauche von Jap (Deutsche 
Sudsee)," Anthropos, VIII (1913), 1052. 

203 F. Grabowsky, in Internationales Archiv fur Ethnographic, II (1889), 
182. 

204 A. E. Jenks, The Bontoc Igorot (Department of the Interior, Ethno- 
logical Survey Publications, Vol. I) (Manila, 1905), pp. 78 f. 

205 F. Mason, in Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. XXXV 
(1866), Part II, p. 29. 

2oe Whitehead, In the Nicobar Islands, pp. 190 ff. ; cf . Man, Nicobar Islands 
and Their People, p. 141. 

Rivers, The Todas, p. 368. 
*Ibid., p. 390. 

209 Sibree, Great African Island, p. 290 ; cf . H. F. Standing, "Malagasy 
'Fady'," Antananarivo Annual and Madagascar Magazine, No. 7 (1883), p. 73. 

210 Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed.), I, 152 ff. By "sex- 
ual relations in the ritual fashion" is to be understood semine non immisso (I> 
516). Thonga gravediggers must be married, because married people alone can 
get rid of the defilement caused by contact with a corpse (I, 137). 

2ll Hollis, The Nandi, p. 70. The Akikuyu, who also deposit corpses in 
the bush, likewise impose stringent taboos upon the relative who has dis- 
charged this final duty to the dead. See J. M. Hillebrandt, in Zeitschrijt fur 
Ethnologie, X (1878), 404 f. 

212 Lindblom, Akamba, pp. 95 ff. The old men receive no purification 
doubtless because, being so near death themselves, they can take risks which 
younger people ought to avoid. 

213 A. B. Ellis, The Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast of West 
Africa (London, 1887), p. 241; idem, The Ewe-speaking Peoples of the Slave 
Coast of West Africa (London, 1890), p. 160; idem, The Y oruba-speaking 
Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa (London, 1894), p. 155. 

21 *A. G. Leonard, The Lower Niger and Its Tribes (London, 1906), pp. 
174 f. 

215 Grubb, An Unknown People in an Unknown Land, p. 169. 

216 Theodor Koch-Grtinberg, Von Roroima sum Orinoco (Stuttgart, 1923), 
III, 168. 

217 J. R. Swanton, "Creek Religion and Medicine," Forty-second Annual 
Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 615 f . 

2 *a J. B. N. Hewitt, in American Anthropologist, III (1890), 389. 

219 P. E. Gpddard, "Life and Culture of the Hupa," University of Cali- 
fornia Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology, I, 71 ff. Else- 
where we learn that all persons who had touched a corpse were obliged to 
keep their heads covered until after the purificatory ceremony, "lest the world 
be spoiled" ("Hupa Texts," ibid., I, 224, note). 

220 J. G. Swan, The Northwest Coast (New York, 1857), pp. 212 f. 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 225 

221 C. Hill-Tout, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXIV 
<1904), 33; ibid., XXXV (1905), 139. 

222 W. L. Hardisty, in Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 
1866, p. 317. 

228 E. W. Nelson, in Eighteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American 
Ethnology, Part I, p. 313. A five days 1 festival of the dead, held by these 
Eskimo, included much singing, drumming, and dancing in honor of the de- 
parted. Upon the conclusion of these ceremonies, the performers drew their 
hands over their bodies, as if wiping something away, stamped on the floor, 
and slapped their thighs. By these actions they cast off all uncleanness that 
might be offensive to the shades (p. 371). 

224 See Sir J. G. Frazer, Psyche's Task (2d ed., London, 1913), pp. 142-48; 
idem, Folk-Lore in the Old Testament (London, 1919), III, 71-81. E. S. 
Hartland has assembled much evidence for a widespread belief that widows 
are haunted by their deceased husbands, who seek a renewal of sexual inter- 
course with them. See his essay, "The Haunted Widow," in Ritual and Belief, 
pp. 194-234. 

228 Mrs. K. L. Parker, The Euahlayi Tribe (London, 1905), p. 93. 

226 Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, p. 500. In the 
Warramunga tribe the custom of compulsory silence after a death is ob- 
served, not only by the widow, but by the greater number of women in any 
camp. Some of them become so proficient in the use of the gesture language 
and so accustomed to it that they never resume the use of their tongue, pre- 
ferring to converse by means of gestures for the rest of their days (iidem, North- 
ern Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 525 f.). 

227 Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea, p. 276. For the 
Koita observances see pp. 162, 164. 

228 R. E. Guise, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXVIII (1899), 
210 f. 

229 C. Keysser, in Neuhauss, Deutsch Neu-Guinea, III, 83. 

230 Malinowski, The Sexual Life of Sawges in North-Western Melanesia, 
pp. 157 f . 

231 A. M. Hocart, "The Cult of the Dead in Eddystone of the Solomons," 
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, LII (1922), 84. 

282 Ernest Dieffenbach, Travels in New Zealand (London, 1843), II, 40. 
233 F. Blumentritt, in Globus, LIX (1891), 182. 
284 Fay-Cooper Cole, The Tenguian (Chicago, 1922), pp. 285 f. 
235 W. C. Willoughby, Nature-Worship and Taboo (Hartford, Conn., 
1932), p. 208. 

23fl junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed.), I, 204 f. 
237 E. W. Smith and A. M. Dale, The Ila-speaking Peoples of Northern 
Rhodesia (London, 1920), II, 61 f. 

288 F. H. Melland, In Witch-bound Africa (London, 1923), pp. 103 f. 
239 Hobley, Bantu Beliefs and Magic, p. 98. 
Ibid., $. 132. 

241 Lindblom, The Akamba, p. 101. As among the Atheraka, a man must not 
succeed to one of his father's wives before the principal widow has cohabited 
with her late husband's brother. If he breaks this rule, he becomes taboo. To 
remove the impurity thus produced it is necessary to make a ceremonial pay- 
ment to the brother, who represents the angered spirit of the deceased. Then 
a piece of wood, about fifteen inches long, is inserted in the woman's vagina 



226 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

and with it the man's penis is touched twice or thrice. Next, one of the eiders 
takes the stick and hurls it across a river, saying, "I throw this evil away." 
Finally, the brother cohabits with the widow in the evening. The man's im- 
purity is now removed. He must never have anything to do with that woman 
again, though he may marry another of his father's wives (C. W. Hobley, in 
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLI [1911], 412). 
242 P. S. Schumacher, in Anthropos, X-XI (1915-1916), 797. 

248 Hollis, The Nandi, p. 72. Masai widows are also not allowed to re- 
marry; they become concubines (Max Weiss, Die Volkerst'dmme im Norden 
Deutsch-Ostafrikas [Berlin, 1910], p. 385). 

244 J. H. Weeks, Among the Primitive Bakongo (London, 1914), pp. 272 ff. 

245 Mary H. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (London, 1897), pp. 483 f . 
24 Ibid., pp. 487 f . 

247 Ellis, The Ewe-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, 
p. 160. 

248 /<tew, The Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast of West Africa, 
pp. 241 f . 

249 N. W. Thomas, "Some Ibo Burial Customs," Journal of the Royal An- 
thropological Institute, XLVII (1917), 175. 

250 Thomas Falkner, A Description of Patagonia (Hereford, 1774), p. 119. 

251 Ruth L. Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," Forty-seventh 
Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 503 f . 

262 C. Hill-Tout, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXV 
(1905), 138 f. 

258 J. Teit, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, II, 
332 f. 

204 See Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of the Soul, pp. 165 ff . ; idem, Psyche's 
Task (2d ed.), pp. Ill ff.; idem, Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, I, 78 ff. 

255 Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea, pp. 129 f . 

2B Radcliffe-Brown, The Andaman Islanders, p. 133. 

257 H. Lichtenstein, Travels in Southern Africa (London, 1812-1815), I, 
257. 

208 Smith and Dale, The Ila-speaking Peoples of Northern Rhodesia, II, 
136 f. The killing of a clansman is not a crime, but is an offense against his 
clan, against the communal god, against the person's ghost, and against the 
hidden powers of nature. "The clan is injured in that it loses a member, and 
anything that injures a member injures the clan. The communal god, the 
guardian of the community, is injured in the killing of one of his people .... 
There is the man's own ghost to be reckoned with also, who resents being 
ushered violently into the cold, dreary ghost-world, and may retaliate by 
haunting the slayer and, moreover, there is something uncanny about spilling 
blood .... something which sets the mysterious world- forces against you. 
These, it must be conceded, are considerable checks upon the man-slaying 
propensities of the Ba-ila" (I, 414). 

2 ' Hollis, The Nandi, pp. 74, 91. 

260 Hobley, Bantu Beliefs and Magic, p. 108. The spearhead or sword with 
which the murder was committed is blunted and is then thrown into a deep pool 
in the nearest river. "They say that if this were not done the weapon would 
continue to be the cause of murder" (p. 233). Among the Akamba the weapon 
used to inflict death is nearly always an arrow. This is carried away and 
placed on a path where a passer-by is likely to see it, pick it up, and thus 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 227 

acquire its mysterious and baneful essence. "If this is not done the evil is 
said to remain with the family of the deceased" (p. 237). Among the Konde 
of Nyasaland the spear with which a murder has been committed is cut off 
short at the haft and the blade bent over with a stone. The weapon is then 
hung up in the roof of a relative of the murderer (D. R. Mackenzie, The 
Spirit-ridden Konde [London, 1925], p. 89). 

2W C. Dundas, "The Organization and Laws of Some Bantu Tribes in 
East Africa," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLV (1915), 270. 

262 Roscoe, The Northern Bantu, pp. 279 f . Among the Bagesu a murderer 
kills a goat, smears his chest with the contents of its stomach, and throws the 
remainder upon the roof of the murdered man's house to appease his ghost 
(p. 171). 

2s Autenrieth, "Zur Religion der Kamerun-Neger," Mitteilungen der 
geographischen Gesellschaft (fur Thuringen) zu Jena, XII (1893), 93 f. 

264 A. W. Cardinall, The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold 
Coast (London, [1920]), p. 93. 

2 H. S. Mekeel, "Social Administration of the Kru," Africa, X (1937), 
79 and note 1. 

266 Edward Westermarck, Ritual and Belief in Morocco (London, 1926), 
II, 10 f . In some instances murderers act as doctors. The curative powers 
attributed to them are obviously due to an association between the idea of 
killing a man and that of killing an illness (loc. cit.). 

2 7 J. O. Dorsey, "Omaha Sociology," Third Annual Report of the Bureau 
of Ethnology, p. 369. According to a later account, deliberate murder was 
regularly punished by banishment of the culprit for four years, unless he was 
sooner forgiven by the relatives of the murdered man. During this time the 
murderer had to keep outside the village and might hold no communication 
with anyone except his nearest kindred (Alice C. Fletcher and Francis La 
Flesche, in Twenty-seventh Annual Report, p. 215). 

268 J. O. Dorsey, "A Study of Siouan Cults," Eleventh Annual Report of 
the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 420. 

269 G. B. Grinnell, The Cheyenne Indians (New Haven, 1923), I, 353 ff. 

270 F. Boas, "Chinook Texts," Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnol- 
ogy, No. 20, p. 258. 

271 Mrs. Leslie Milne, Shans at Home (London, 1910), p. 192. 

272 Weeks, Among the Primitive Bakongo, pp. 62 f . 

278 Leonard, The Lower Niger and Its Tribes, pp. 178 ff. 

274 The Captivity of Hans Stade of Hesse (Hakluyt Society, Vol. LI) 
(London, 1874), p. 159. See further G. Friederici, "Uber eine als Couvade 
gedeutete Wiedergeburtszeremonie bei den Tupi," Globus, LXXXIX (1906), 
59-63. 

275 J. W. Gambier, in Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 
1894, p. 548; Alice C. Cook, in American Anthropologist (n.s., 1900), II, 483 ff. 
The cleaners and embalmers of corpses were likewise subject to taboos (Cook, 
loc. cit.). 

276 See Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of the Soul, pp. 157-65 ; idem, After- 
math (London, 1936), pp. 234-46; see also L. Levy-Bruhl, Primitives and the 
Supernatural (London, 1936), pp. 279-87. There are some very logical savages, 
who, not content with imposing all sorts of avoidances and abstinences upon 
hunters and fishers while away on their expeditions, also subject them to vari- 
ous purificatory rites upon their return, after the animals have been killed and 
the fish have been caught. For instances among the Eskimo, the Kayan of Borneo, 



228 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

and some South African tribes see Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of the Soul, 
pp. 204-9, 219-23. For further instances relating to "animalicide" see Levy- 
Bruhl, op. cit., pp. 287-91. 

277 Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 494 f . 
218 Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea, p. 333. 
*"Ibid., pp. 557 f.; cf. pp. 562 ff. 

280 p. E. Williams, Orokaiva Society (Oxford, 1930), pp. 173 ff. The au- 
thor thinks that these observances are not only purificatory but also defensive 
in character. They seem to be meant to drive away the spirit of the slain 
man, as well as to remove the uncleanness of his slayer (p. 175). 

281 R. E. Guise, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XXXVIII 
(1908), 213 f. 

282 Thomas Williams, Fiji and the Fijians (3d ed., London, 1870), pp. 44 ff. 
The elaborate ritual which Williams described was observed for a chiefs son 
who had slain his first man. Presumably, warriors of lower rank or of no 
rank whatever were subjected to less onerous restrictions. 

283 E. S. C. Handy, in Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin, No. 9, p. 135, on 
the manuscript authority of I. R. Dordillon. 

284 Tregear, Maori Race, pp. 332 f . The members of a war party, before 
starting out, went to the bank of a stream, where they were sprinkled, one 
after another, by a priest (idem, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 
XIX [1890], llOf.). This, no doubt, was a rite of consecration, which en- 
dowed them with strength and grace for their undertaking. 

285 t Best, "Maori Religion and Mythology," Dominion Museum Bulletin, 
No. 10, pp. 241 f . A woman, the wahine ariki, played the leading role in an- 
other Maori rite for the desacralization of warriors. She was the elder female 
of the elder branch of the family from which the members of the tribe traced 
their descent. It was her business, upon the return of the war party, to swallow 
an ear of the first enemy killed in battle. Only she could taste human flesh; 
if another woman did so, the men would meet with a great reverse when next 
they went to war (Edward Shortland, The Southern Districts of New Zealand 
[London, 1851], pp. 68 ff.). 

286 J. [S.] Kubary, Ethnographische Beitrdge sur Kenntniss der Karoli- 
nischen Inselgruppe und Nachbarschaft, Heft I, Die socialen Einrichtungen der 
Pelauer (Berlin, 1885), p. 130. 

287 Casalis, The Basutos, p. 258. The Basuto say, "Human blood is heavy, 
it prevents him who has shed it from running away" (p. 309). The warrior 
taboo seems to be general among the Bechuana tribes. A man who has slain 
an enemy in battle must on no account enter his own courtyard, for it would be 
a serious thing if even his shadow were to fall on his children. He studiously 
avoids his family and friends until after purification (W. C. Willoughby, in 
Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXV [1905], 305). 

28 8Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed.), I, 477 ff. The 
Awemba, a tribe of Northern Rhodesia, believe that unless slayers are purified 
from bloodguiltiness, they will go mad (J. H. W. Sheane, "Wemba Warpaths," 
Journal of the African Society, No. 41, pp. 31 f.). A Nandi warrior, who has 
slain an enemy, carefully washes off the blood on the spear or sword into a 
grass cup and then drinks the blood. "If this were not done it is thought that 
the man will become frenzied" (Hollis, The Nandi, p. 27). 

289 J. Barton, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, LIII 
(1923), 47. 

29 Johnston, Uganda Protectorate, II, 743 f . 



DEATH AND THE DEAD 229 

2 " Ibid., II, 794. 

292 Rafael Karsten, "Blood Revenge, War, and Victory Feasts among the 
Jibaro Indians of Eastern Ecuador," Bulletin of the Bureau of American Eth- 
nology, No. 79, p. 34. For the purification procedure, "the washing of the blood," 
see pp. 35 ff. 

293 Frank Russell, in Twenty-sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ameri- 
can Ethnology, pp. 204 f . This long period of retirement, immediately after a 
battle, greatly diminished the value of the Pima when serving with the United 
States troops against the Apache. The bravery of the Pima was praised by all 
army officers having any experience with them, but their rigid observance of the 
custom described made them very unreliable as scouts and allies (loc. cit.). 

294 Leslie Spier, Yuman Tribes of the Gila River (Chicago, 1933), pp. 179 ff. 

295 James Adair, History of the American Indians (London, 1775), p. 388. 

296 P. F. X. de Charlevoix, Journal of a Voyage to North America (edited 
by L. P. Kellogg) (Chicago, 1923), II, 252. 

297 J. Teit, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, II, 
357. 

298 F. Boas, "The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the 
Kwakiutl Indians," Report of the US. National Museum for 1895, pp. 433 f. 



CHAPTER VI 

STRANGERS AND STRANGE 
PHENOMENA 



FOR primitive peoples strangers are enemies; their hostile inten- 
tions are suspected and dreaded, often with good reason. The 
distrust and even hatred felt toward them seems also to be based 
on the very fact of their strangeness. Being unknown, they are 
jnvested with mysterious and dangerous qualities which make 
ithem carriers of evil, potent in cursing, and proficient in all man- 
ner of nefarious magic. As such, taboos regularly attach to them. 1 
The aborigines of Victoria, who were almost if not quite om- 
nivorous, nevertheless would not touch any food which had been 
partaken of by a stranger. Nor did they like to handle the weap- 
ons of strangers, fearing that these might "communicate sick- 
ness and might cause death." 2 With reference to the tribes of 
central and northern Australia, Messrs. Spencer and Gillen ob- 
serve that nothing could be further from the truth than the con- 
ception of them as being in a state of constant hostility. In al- 
most every camp of considerable size there are to be found 
members of strange tribes paying visits and often taking part in 
the ceremonies. "At the same time it is quite true that, if a 
member of an unknown tribe made his appearance, except of 
course he came accredited as a sacred messenger, he would most 
probably be promptly speared. Anything strange is uncanny to 
the native, who has a peculiar dread of magic from a distance." 8 
The Mailu, a Papuan tribe, do not like to have a stranger enter 
one of their villages unbidden or unconducted. They fear lest 
his shadow may fasten itself upon them. Nor do they like to eat 
before strangers.* For the Mountain Arapesh sexual relations 
with a stranger are dangerous. Even intercourse with one's wife, 
if she comes from a distance, contains an element of danger until 
several months have elapsed and the partners have become habit- 
uated to each other. A man who goes abroad should keep away 
from all women except those who are related to him and in 
whose houses he can therefore sleep without fear of sorcery. 6 

230 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 231 

The inhabitants of Niue, or Savage Island, invariably put to 
death natives of other islands who drifted to their shores, as 
well as any of their own people who had gone away in a ship and 
returned home. "This was occasioned by a dread of disease. For 
years after they began to venture out to ships they would not im- 
mediately use anything obtained, but hung it up in quarantine for 
weeks in the bush/' 6 The natives of the Tenimber or Timorlaut 
Archipelago will not bury a stranger who happens to die while 
among them. They fear that if they did so some calamity would 
descend upon the land. 1 

The Kayan of Borneo are very careful that no stranger shall 
handle a young child or gaze upon it too closely. The more influ- 
ential the stranger, the more his contact is feared, for any such 
contact or notice may attract to the infant the unwelcome and 
probably injurious attentions of the spirits. 8 Three deaths which 
occurred while an American explorer was leading an expedition 
up the Baram River in Sarawak were ascribed by the natives to 
the presence of the strangers, who were thereupon requested to 
return. 9 An Italian traveler in New Guinea was asked by some 
Alfuru to leave their village as soon as possible, because his pres- 
ence brought bad luck. "Our sons began to die," they said to him, 
"so soon as you came and looked at them. Five died in three 
days. It is you who have killed them with your eyes. Depart, or 
all the rest will perish." 10 Similarly, the natives of Ta-tsien-lu, 
on the eastern borders of Tibet, associated unusually cold weather 
in June with the presence of a foreign naturalist among them and 
compelled him to quit the country. 11 

Among the Tangkhul of Manipur no stranger may enter a 
house where a birth has occurred for six days in the case of a 
boy and for five days in the case of a girl. They fear lest the pres- 
ence of a stranger might harm the child at the time when it is 
most susceptible to evil influences. 12 The Western Rengma, after 
a birth, do not allow the parents to speak to strangers for ten 
days. 13 The Lhota forbid speech between parents and strangers 
for six days after the birth of a boy and for five days in the case 
of a girl. 14 

A stranger who dies in an Andamanese community is buried 
without ceremony or is cast into the sea. Among some of the 
tribes it was formerly the custom to cut his body into pieces and 
burn them. They said that his blood and fat, which were potent 
for evil, would then be driven up to the sky in the smoke of the 
fire and thus rendered harmless to the living. The blood of stran- 



232 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

gers disposed of in this manner is seen in the glow of the sky at 
sunset. 15 

The four tribes of the Nilgiri Hills the Toda, Badaga, Kota, 
and Korumba have long lived close to each other, yet culturally 
they possess little in common and still avoid much social inter- 
course. When Korumba magicians have occasion to call on their 
Kota clients, the women and children of a Kota village run for 
the safety of their homes and cower inside them until the visitors 
have gone. All transactions between the Kota and Korumba 
take place outside the village limits of each tribe. In like manner, 
while Kota musicians have to be present at all major ceremonials 
of the Toda, "if the band comes too close to a dairy, the place is 
polluted and can only be resanctified by elaborate purificatory 
rituals." In short, any intimate contact between members of the 
different tribes is stringently forbidden. 16 

When a stranger dies in a Thonga village, and no one knows 
him, "he does not matter." The grown-up men attach a rope to 
his body and dump it into a hole. There is no contagion from a 
dead stranger, and therefore no ceremony of purification is re- 
quired. 17 The Akamba and other East African tribes think that 
a man who has sexual intercourse on a journey into foreign parts 
will bring bad luck on his village. 18 The Akikuyu, after building 
a new hut, are afraid to procure fire for it direct from another 
village, lest some unknown contamination be brought with the 
fire or with the firewood. To do so is a very risky proceeding, 
particularly for young children, who might get thin and fall ill. 19 

A missionary in the Lower Congo region refers to the anxiety 
which the natives felt at the arrival of himself in the country. 
Wise men shook their heads and declared that "the San Salvador 
people would die very fast; that there would be no rain; pesti- 
lence and disasters of all kinds would surely follow." 20 A stran- 
ger dying in Loango may not be buried there. His body is tied up 
in mats and hung between two posts. Sometimes his people will 
redeem it and take it away. 21 When an Ashanti man (or woman) 
gets up from a chair or a stool and does not intend the reseat 
himself almost at once, he reverses it and places it on its side. 
Sometimes he tilts it against the wall. This is a precaution against 
any stranger sitting in the chair or on the stool and leaving there 
an evil influence. 22 

The Jivaro Indians of eastern Ecuador ascribe all diseases, 
whether endemic or imported from the whites, to disease-spirits, 
but they know no other way of protecting themselves against a 



STRANGERS, AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 233 

visitation by these demonic powers than by running away from 
them. Thus, when smallpox breaks out in a village, the inhabi- 
tants abandon the place, at least for some time. "Under such 
circumstances," declares Dr. Karsten, "it is easy to understand 
the anxiety with which the Indians, when a strange white man 
arrives, always ask whether he 'brings disease/ Both in his own 
person and in his clothes, and the other mysterious things which 
he brings with himself, the strange guest is supposed to carry 
germs of dangerous disease. My eating and drinking plates and 
cups were especially regarded as taboo, and at the first time 
of my staying among the Jibaros at least no one of the women 
would on any account have eaten from my plates or drunk from 
a cup. Disease and death was believed to be the probable conse- 
quence of such carelessness." 28 The Bakairi of Brazil attribute 
sickness, death, and other evils to the sorcery practiced by stran- 
gers from beyond their borders. 24 It is a common notion among 
the Plains Indians that "strangers, particularly white strangers, 
are ofttimes accompanied by evil spirits." 25 

The Siberian Chukchi whose fire has gone out on the cold and 
timberless tundra cannot borrow fire from his neighbor, for the 
fire of a strange family is regarded as infectious and as harboring 
evil spirits. Fear of pollution extends also to all objects belonging 
to a strange hearth, to the skins of the tent, and to the sleeping 
room. "The Chukchee from far inland, who travel but little, 
when they come to a strange territory fear to sleep in tents or 
to eat meat cooked on a strange fire, preferring to sleep in the 
open air and to subsist on their own scant food supply. On the 
other hand, an unknown traveler, coming unexpectedly to a Chuk- 
chee camp, can hardly gain admittance to a tent." 26 The Orotchi 
of the Amur region think that misfortunes such as forest fires, 
winters with excessively deep snow, and the silting up of rivers, 
have multiplied for them with the coming of Europeans; "they 
even go so far as to lay the appearance of nezv phenomena like 
thunder at the door of the Russians." 27 

It is not uncommon for purificatory ceremonies to be per- 
formed over strangers before they are allowed to enter a com- 
munity and mingle with its inhabitants. Sometimes the strangers 
themselves take such precautions. Those who return to their own 
land from a sojourn abroad may also be required to undergo a cere- 
monial cleansing. In some parts of Victoria, when a strange tribe 
has been invited into a district and is approaching the encampment 
of the tribe which owns the land, "the strangers carry lighted bark 



234 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

or burning sticks in their hands, for the purpose, they say, of 
clearing and purifying the air." 28 Among some of the southeast- 
ern tribes of Australia a stranger must first bite off a mouthful of 
cooked meat handed to him on a skewer by his host. Then the 
host mixes a little earth with water and gives the stranger a 
drink. He may now freely eat the food and drink the water of 
the tribe which he has visited, but were he to do so without hav- 
ing performed the prescribed ceremonial he would become ill and 
sores would break out on his body. 29 In Nanumea, an island of 
the Ellice group, strangers from ships or from other islands were 
not allowed to hold any communication with the people until they 
had been taken to the temples, where prayers were offered "that 
the god would exert his power and drive away any disease or 
treachery which these strangers might have brought with them/' 30 

A Maori, journeying in a strange region, was in a state of 
tapu. Upon his return he might not go home before the tapu had 
been removed by a priest. 81 The Kayan of Dutch Borneo are 
said to fear the evil spirits which dog the footsteps of travelers 
even more than their own local demons. There is justification for 
this attitude, since returning travelers bring with them infectious 
diseases, especially influenza. Some of the tribes require a man 
who has come back from a long journey to remain secluded for 
four days in a special hut before he is allowed to go to his own 
house. 82 

It is customary among the Lao of northern Siam for the 
master of the house to offer sacrifice to his ancestral spirits before 
receiving and entertaining a stranger. The spirits would punish 
any neglect of this rite by sending disease on the inmates. 88 A 
Naga, when entering or quitting a strange village, strikes his ears, 
forehead, and stomach with a sprig of wild indigo, which he then 
places in his kilt. This is intended to prevent any ill consequences 
to him from his visit. 34 The Western Rengma think that strangers 
bring evil magic with them. If a stranger comes to a village and 
settles there, the inhabitants observe a genna, or season of taboo, 
for an entire day. The Eastern Rengma do the same, but only if 
the stranger brings his cooking pots and other utensils with him. 85 

When Bechuana travelers returned from foreign parts, "they 
were not permitted to rejoin the family circle till they had been 
lustrated with 'holy water/ or, sometimes, cleansed with that 
still more potent purifier, the gall of a sacrificed ox, so as to free 
them from any occult influence that may have touched them while 
abroad." Few natives now observe this custom, though in every 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 235 

tribe there are still some people who walk punctiliously in the old 
ways. 86 The Basuto even fumigated cattle captured in war before 
the animals were allowed to mix with their own herds. 87 Before 
a stranger may be received by a Thonga village he must submit 
to a purificatory ceremony similar to that which follows the death 
of an important member of the community, and all the inhabitants 
of the village are purified with him. 38 In Angola a man who had 
returned home after a long absence from his family might not 
engage in sexual intercourse until he had washed his genitals with 
medicine. It was also necessary for a magician to make certain 
chalk marks on his forehead. This purification prevented the 
transmission to his wife of any evil influence which he might have 
contracted from his relations with foreign women. 39 In Benin a 
stranger must wash his feet before entering the country. 40 Among 
the nomadic Arabs of Morocco, as soon as a stranger appears in 
a village, some water or, if he be a person of distinction, some 
milk is presented to him. If he refuses to partake of it, he is not 
allowed to go about freely, but has to stay in the village mosque. 
"On asking for an explanation of this custom I was told that it 
is a precautionary measure against the stranger; should he steal 
or otherwise misbehave himself, the drink would cause his knees 
to swell so that he could not escape." 41 

Navaho Indians, who return from captivity in another tribe, 
are washed from head to foot, "in order that all alien substances 
and influences may be removed from them." 42 

A traveler in foreign parts, in addition to human enemies, 
faces all the mysterious terrors of the unknown. Some of the 
clans of the Kurnai, a tribe of Victoria, had a belief in the exist- 
ence of a being called Lohan, who watched over them and caused 
their country to be deadly to strangers. "It was therefore to him 
that they attributed the taboo which protected them against the 
visits of other tribes." 48 With the Maori the dread of trespassing 
was so strong that on going to a strange land rites were carried 
out to make it noa, or common, "lest, perchance, it might have 
been previously tapu." 4 * The Thonga think that certain torment- 
ing spirits frequently attack those who go to another district and 
follow them in their further migrations. 45 

The general effect of these taboos affecting strangers and 
strange lands is obviously to confirm the ethnocentrism of the 
savage. It has been said of the Australian natives that "sorcery 
makes them fear and hate every man not of their own coterie, 
suspicious of every man not of their own tribe ; it tends to keep 



236 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

them in small communities, and is the great bar to social prog- 
ress/' 46 The statement is evidently of general application. It 
should be added, however, that this attitude often coexists with a 
rigid observance of the law of hospitality, so that a stranger may 
sometimes enjoy extraordinary privileges as a guest. The taboo 
on the stranger and the practice of hospitality toward him, in 
order to secure his blessing or to avoid his curse, can ultimately 
be traced to the same root his strangeness. 

All things out of the ordinary, all things strange and unfa- 
miliar, are mysterious to the savage. Whatever has this character 
may sometimes be treated with special consideration and even 
reverence; it becomes a talisman bringing good fortune, or an 
amulet averting misfortune, or a fetish object supposed to be 
possessed by a helpful spirit. It may also be avoided as harmful, 
and in some cases the avoidance takes the form of a taboo. 

The missionary, James Chalmers, once noticed that the natives 
in the neighborhood of Port Moresby, New Guinea, were much 
astonished at the contents of his traveling bag. They had never 
before seen pins and needles, thread and scissors. The most 
astonishing thing to them was a small case which contained a 
thermometer, barometer, and compass. When Chalmers tried to 
show them the uses of these instruments, they begged him to shut 
up the case and put it away as soon as possible, for otherwise, they 
said, "we shall all be sick." 47 A British administrator in New 
Guinea, referring to the Gosisi tribe, tells us that if anyone tried 
to do some writing in their presence they promptly took to their 
heels. So great was their fear of paper and pencil that no native 
would remain near a government office for more than a few min- 
utes at a time. 48 Some Maori were once shown a watch. "The 
ticking was so wonderful to their conceptions, that they believed 
it to be nothing less than the language of a god; and the watch 
itself, being looked upon as the Etw, was regarded by the whole 
of them with profound reverence." 49 The Dusun "attribute any- 
thing whether good or bad, lucky or unlucky that happens to 
them to something novel which has arrived in their country." 50 

Among the wilder tribes of Ceylon soap is under a ban, the 
prohibition applying particularly to the scented variety. Soap, it 
seems, serves as an attraction to "devils," who afflict the users of 
it for the rest of their days. Consequently villagers in the remote 
jungle areas never use soap and try to be always as dirty as pos- 
sible. 51 The people of Oudh, British India, "regard a tiled roof as 
tabu" probably, thinks our informant, because at some not remote 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 237 

period they lived like gypsies under a rude shelter of reeds. 52 When 
bananas were first introduced among the Ba-ila of Northern Rho- 
desia one of the natives, to whom some of the fruit was offered, 
turned from it with the utmost consternation. "No! No! I 
have never seen that before! It is tonda" [taboo]. It is also tonda 
for anyone to see the mole out of its burrow. This creature rarely 
appears on the surface during the daytime. "If you saw it, it 
would grin and one of your friends would die in consequence." 
To see it in the burrow is, however, quite harmless. 53 

It is a very common belief among the Akamba of Kenya that 
iron is antagonistic to rain; hence in the district of Kitui iron 
implements are not used for work in the fields. Our authority 
thinks that probably the same belief explains their objection to 
the railway. "I talked once to an old man on the subject, but got 
very little out of him excepting a look which plainly said that if I 
did not know that to lay an iron band all across the country was 
enough to drive all rain away, what did I know !" 5 * By the Pata- 
gonians "any unfamiliar object that they do not comprehend, as, 
for instance, a compass or a watch, is regarded with suspicion as 
being tenanted by an evil spirit/ 185 Medicine men among the 
Guiana Indians avoid all articles of food not indigenous to their 
country; these are said to be "tabooed" to them. 66 

The Bribri Indians of Costa Rica distinguish two kinds of 
ceremonial uncleanness, namely nya and bukuru. Anything that 
has been connected with a death is nya. The worst sort of bukuru 
emanates from a young woman in her first pregnancy. It also 
attaches to weapons and utensils after long disuse, and these 
before being used again must be purified. In the case of portable 
objects left undisturbed for a lengthy period, it is customary to 
beat them with a stick before touching them. "I have seen a wom- 
an take a long walking-stick and beat a basket hanging from the 
roof of a house by a cord. On asking what that was for, I was 
told that the basket contained her treasures, that she would prob- 
ably want to take something out the next day, and that she was 
driving off the bukuru. A house long unused must be swept, and 
then the person who is purifying it must take a stick and beat not 
only the movable objects, but the beds, posts, and in short every 
accessible part of the interior. The next day it is fit for occupa- 
tion." 57 By some of the Aleuts any articles of Russian manu- 
facture found on the beach were considered "unclean" and were 
at once thrown away. 58 

This lively fear of the strange and unfamiliar accounts in 



238 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

large measure for the conservatism of savages and their repug- 
nance toward innovation of any sort. A missionary, after twenty- 
five years of teaching the Congo natives (his remarks apply par- 
ticularly to the Bangala), declares that though they have a won- 
derful power of imitation they lack inventiveness. Their inventive 
capacity has been socially suppressed. For generations it has been 
customary to accuse of witchcraft anyone who has started a new 
industry or begun a new art. 'To know more than others, to be 
more skillful than others, energetic, more acute in business, more 
smart in dress, has always caused a charge of witchcraft, and 
death." 59 Or, to take another case, how slowly must the Wanika 
move forward, among whom, "if a man dares to improve the 
style of his hut, to make a larger doorway than is customary, if 
he should wear a finer or different style of dress to that of his 
fellows he is instantly fined; and he becomes, too, the object 
of such scathing ridicule, that he were a bold man indeed who 
would venture to excite it against himself." 60 The persecuting 
tendency of savages is an outcome of the idea of collective re- 
sponsibility, the idea that all may suffer for the guilt of one. 
Hatred of the non-conformist thus becomes an expression of the 
sense of group welfare. The lot of the innovator, in consequence, 
is still harder among primitive folk than among ourselves; if 
lowly born, he is promptly clubbed; if a chief and something hap- 
pens to him, either by disease or accident, men see in his fate the 
righteous punishment for impiety and a warning against any de- 
parture from the good old ancestral ways. What Walter Bagehot 
called the "cake of custom" is more deeply hardened, more firmly 
fixed, than ever. 

Various aspects of nature, strange or terrifying, give rise to 
taboos. The Bukaua of northern New Guinea believe that a per- 
son who points a finger at a rainbow will get ulcers in the armpits. 
The punishment is sent by the angered spirits of murdered men, 
whose blood forms the rainbow. 61 In Mindanao, one of the Phil- 
ippine Islands, there is a tribe, living in a crater-like valley, whose 
members have heard of, but have never seen, the sea. To behold 
it, they believe, would be certain death for anyone who did so. 62 
Upon returning from an attempt to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro, 
believed by neighboring tribes to be tenanted by demons, some 
Englishmen were sprinkled with "a professionally prepared liquor, 
supposed to possess the potency of neutralizing evil influences 
and removing the spell of wicked spirits." 68 The Ona of Tierra 
del Fuego, who respect and fear such natural objects as moun- 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 239 

tains, the sun, moon, stars, lakes, and woods, do not speak loudly 
of them or stare at them too long. They say that if you speak ill 
of a mountain in its presence it will send rains and winds. 64 The 
Jivaro of eastern Ecuador believe that their rain god lives in the 
solitudes of the cloud-capped mountain peaks. "If offended by 
disrespectful invasion of his dwelling place, he causes heavy rains 
to fall upon the traveler, produces floods in the streams, and makes 
the way difficult and dangerous." No native will speak while 
crossing the summit of the mountain particularly associated with 
him. The Jivaro river god haunts a great cataract of the Maranon, 
and accordingly the same rule of silence is observed by the In- 
dians when passing through the gorge of this river. 65 

Among the Guiana Indians certain words, mostly of Spanish 
origin, must not be spoken during a voyage. To utter them is the 
surest way of offending the water spirits, who will cause the boat 
to capsize or to be wrecked. Paraphrases of the tabooed words 
are accordingly employed. 66 These Indians, before attempting to 
shoot a cataract for the first time, or on the first sight of any new 
place, and every time a striking rock or mountain is seen, avert 
the ill will of the spirits of such places by rubbing red peppers in 
their eyes. Lime juice may be used as a substitute. On one occa- 
sion, when neither peppers nor limes were available, the Indians 
carefully soaked a piece of indigo-dyed cloth and then rubbed the 
dye into their eyes. 67 This temporary occlusion of vision has been 
mentioned by other travelers. Some Carib Indians, on first gain- 
ing sight of a range of mountains never seen before, had tobacco 
juice squeezed into their eyes. 68 The Arawak, when visiting any 
new place for the first time, put creek or river water in their eyes. 
Were this not done, the evil spirits lurking in the vicinity would 
make their eyes sore and perhaps inflict on them other sickness^ 
as well. "One woman maintained that, independently of any evil 
spirits, the very novelty of the scene might give her sore eyes, in 
the absence of the usual precaution." 69 

The Bribri Indians of Costa Rica think that any place such 
as a mountain peak not previously visited, or not visited for a 
long time, is especially bukuru (ceremonially unclean). 70 The 
Greenlanders will not pronounce the name of a glacier as they 
row past it, fearing lest it should be offended and throw off an 
iceberg. 71 The Aleuts considered it "a punishable offense" to talk 
unnecessarily and unfavorably of stars and clouds. 72 

Thunder and lightning account for many taboos. Some 
Queensland tribes, among whom the lack of pigmentation of hands 



240 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

and feet is by no means rare, explain the abnormality by assuming 
that the afflicted person must have picked up some splinters from 
a tree which had been struck by lightning. 73 The Maori thought 
that a man struck by lightning had violated some taboo : the god 
Tupai (one of the lightning deities) punished him for his act. 74 

The Semang, the very primitive Negritos of Malaya, believe 
that certain actions are most displeasing to the higher powers, 
who punish the performance of them by sending a great storm, 
with thunder and lightning. Then the water will well forth from 
under the earth, and the offenders will be struck by lightning or 
swallowed up in the liquescent earth. Such terrible consequences 
can be avoided only by a blood sacrifice. The blood must be drawn 
from the leg or some other part of the body and then be thrown 
upward into the air. People will do this when a bad thunderstorm is 
approaching. 75 The Sema Naga treat a man killed by lightning as 
accursed and bury him in some out-of-the-way place. 76 The Ao 
Naga will not eat an animal killed by lightning. If any part of a 
lightning-struck tree should be used as firewood, the heads of all the 
children in the house would be covered with sores. 77 

The Bantu-speaking peoples of South Africa display much 
fear of thunderstorms, which are very impressive in that part of 
the world. 78 The Amaxosa "conceive that thunder proceeds from 
the direct action of a deity ; and if a person is killed by lightning, 
they say that God (Uhlanga) has been amongst them. On such 
occasions they sometimes remove their residence from the spot, 
and offer a heifer or an ox in sacrifice. If cattle are struck by 
lightning, they are carefully buried." 79 By the Zulu a house or an 
animal struck by lightning is tabooed. However, the Zulu believe 
that such an object contains the "power" of the lightning: conse- 
quently, to protect the people against it, the doctors sometimes 
order an ox killed by lightning to be eaten. The people do so, but 
while eating they take emetics continually, and, when the repast 
is finished, they wash themselves and are given medicines. The 
doctors will also scarify their own bodies and rub in medicines 
mixed with the flesh of a lightning-struck animal. Thus the doc- 
tors get into sympathy with the heaven where storms appear; they 
know now when it is going to thunder and lighten ; and they can 
take appropriate measures to preserve the people from harm. 80 

When lightning strikes the central square of a Thonga village, 
the event is portentous of great evil to come. If the medicine man 
is able to exhume the mysterious bird which causes lightning, or 
at least the coagulated urine (called Heaven) which the bird has 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 241 

deposited, the people are not obliged to destroy their village and 
move away. But if he fails in his efforts, they must do so, "as the 
presence of the mysterious power of Heaven inside the circle of 
huts would bring disaster." It is taboo to warm oneself at a fire 
made of the wood of a tree that has been struck by lightning, or to 
use it as fuel. 81 

The Nandi include among people ceremonially unclean, or 
taboo, those who have eaten the flesh of an animal killed by light- 
ning. When a hut has been struck by lightning a member of the 
Toyoi clan (whose totems are the soldier ant and rain) is called 
upon to burn the hut down. If an ox has been lightning-struck, 
it is the duty of some men of this clan to turn the animal over on 
its side ; this done, adult persons may safely cut off a piece of the 
meat and eat it. They may not converse while eating, and after 
the meal the bones must be put in a heap for burning. Before re- 
turning home they must proceed to the nearest river and bathe 
themselves. The spot where the bones are burned is covered with 
thorns and stones, so that it cannot be trodden on by man or 
beast. When cattle have been killed by lightning, the herd must 
be purified in the nearest river. Here the warriors stand in two 
lines along the banks, and the unmarried girls, who are stripped, 
stand in front of them in the water. The herd is driven between 
the girls and each cow is sprinkled with water as it passes. Then 
the girls drive the cattle home, while the men sit down near the 
river and recite a prayer to the sun god. A tree that has been 
struck by lightning may not be used for building purposes or fuel. 82 

The Ja-Luo of Kavirondo desert a house which has been struck 
by lightning if anyone in it is killed. However, they do not scruple 
to use the wood for other purposes. 83 The Wawanga of Mount 
Elgon require all the inhabitants of a village to be purified by the 
medicine man if lightning strikes a hut or kills a man or an ani- 
mal. 84 The Bahima (Bahuma) of Uganda and the Banyoro have 
a "strange belief" that when lightning kills any cows the rest of 
the herd must not be removed from the place until the medicine 
man has released them by making an offering to the thunder god. 85 

The Fan of French Equatorial Africa always try to find out 
what particular eki, or taboo, has been broken by a man whom 
lightning killed, and a fetish priest is called upon to make an 
investigation. Funeral rites are never performed for the victim. 
His body is carried without ceremony into the bush and buried 
beneath an anthill, so that it may be quickly destroyed. Some- 
times it is placed along a line of marching ants for still more 



242 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

prompt disposal. Nor will his skull be preserved with the skulls 
his ancestors; he has died a "bad death," and all memory of him 
must be blotted out as soon as possible. 86 The Yoruba think that 
people who have been nearly killed by lightning or whose houses 
have been lightning-struck must have broken some taboo or done 
some act which withdrew from them the protection of the gods 
or of the ancestors. Hence such wicked people are not assisted 
in any manner. 87 

Khebioso (So) is the lightning god of the Ewe of the Slave 
Coast. His name means, literally, "the bird" or "bird-like c^ea- 
ture that throws out fire." Some people believe that the crash of 
thunder is really the flapping of his enormous wings. When a 
house is struck by lightning and set afire, the blaze must not be ex- 
tinguished. To do so would bring down the vengeance of the god 
upon the entire community for acting contrary to the manifest 
wishes of the god. A house which has been lightning-struck and 
not set afire is at once invaded by a mob of priests and "wives" 
of the god, who, while pretending to search for the holy thunder- 
bolt, strip the house of everything portable. A heavy fine is levied 
on the owner of the house, often so heavy that he cannot pay it. 
He will then be made a slave, and his whole family may be en- 
slaved as well. The fact that the house was struck is conclusive 
evidence that its inmates must have been guilty of some sin of 
commission or omission that aroused the anger of the god. The 
body of a man killed by lightning is dragged by the priests and 
"wives" of Khebioso to some open space and exposed on a plat- 
form. It is not supposed to be buried, but, if the victim was a 
freeman, the priests usually allow it to be ransomed for burial. 
In the case of a slave, the consorts of Khebioso cut pieces of the 
corpse as it lies on the platform and chew them without swallow- 
ing them, while they cry out to the passers-by, "We sell you meat 
good meat." It is said that in former days the priests and their 
female companions used to eat the bodies of all persons killed by 
lightning. 88 

The White Mountain Apache of Arizona, in common with 
other Indian tribes, recognize the existence of occult power in cer- 
tain natural phenomena, plants, animals, and some human beings. 
This power, for which they have a name, can be acquired by pray- 
ers and also by the performance of certain ritual acts. When so 
acquired, it becomes a means of combating the very sources from 
which it emanates. Lightning is a very great source of occult 
power. People with guilty consciences live in dread of the ap- 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 243 

preaching lightning season, because sinners are so often struck 
down by a bolt from the blue. However, there are very "holy" 
men, invested with occult power to a great degree, who know how 
to perform a ceremony for protection against lightning. 89 The 
Omaha Indians, when a man had been killed by lightning, slit the 
soles of his feet and buried him face downward. If these precau- 
tions were taken, his ghost went at once to the spirit-land and gave 
no further trouble to the living. The house where he had lived 
was deserted. 90 

The moon, because of its brilliant light, periodical transforma- 
tions, and regular movement through the sky, seems to have 
aroused the interest and excited the imagination of primitive man 
to a far greater degree than did the sun, the planets, or any of the 
constellations. The fears aroused by eclipses of the moon, by its 
disappearance at the end of the lunation, and by its phases have 
given rise to innumerable taboos. Their existence in Polynesia, 
Indonesia, and Africa, to say nothing of the survivals of them in 
Asiatic and European lands, throws light on the origin of the 
Hebrew Sabbath and of its assumed Babylonian original. 91 

Eclipses of the moon are sometimes considered unfavorable 
for work and may also be accompanied by fasting and other forms 
of abstinence. Lunar and solar eclipses require a Naga commu- 
nity to declare a genna and suspend, for a time, the ordinary occu- 
pations. 92 When the Toda know that an eclipse is about to occur, 
they abstain from meat and drink; when it is over, they have a 
feast and eat a special food prepared on all ceremonial occasions. 98 
In southern India the people retire into their houses during an 
eclipse and remain behind closed doors. "The time is in all re- 
spects inauspicious, and no work begun or completed during this 
period can meet with success; indeed, so great is the dread, that 
no one would think of initiating any important work at this 
time." 04 The natives of northern India are said to consider it a 
great crime to partake of food, drink water, or answer the calls 
of nature during an eclipse. 05 Among the Wasania, a tribe of 
Kenya, no cohabitation takes place during an eclipse. 98 

The obscuration of the moon at the end of the month has 
been sometimes explained as due to its descent to the underworld ; 
hence the intcrlunium may be considered a dangerous and inauspi- 
cious period. This attitude seems to be prevalent among the Dra- 
vidian-speaking peoples of India. The Kanarese of Hyderabad 
and Mysore do not work in the fields on the last day of the month. 
If a child is born at this time, they believe that someone in the 



244 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

family will die. If a cow or a buffalo has a calf at this time, it 
must be sold. On the evening before new moon no one may eat 
cooked food. The new moon is consecrated to the dead, 97 

The Maler or Sauria Paharia of the Rajmahal Hills in Ben- 
gal, who regard Sunday as unlucky and do not work in the fields, 
pay visits, or get married on this day, observe much the same 
restrictions during the period of the moon's invisibility. Mar- 
riages will not be fruitful if consummated during the dark of the 
moon and, in general, the time is associated with sickness and bad 
luck. 98 Similar notions are entertained by various African geo- 
ples. The Zulu would not engage in battle on the "dark day" of 
the moon. 99 The Akikuyu of Kenya, who regard the moon as 
the sun's wife, suppose that when the moon comes to maturity the 
sun fights with her and kills her. While she is "dead," as the 
natives say, no journeys are undertaken, no sacrifices are offered, 
and no sheep are killed. It is further considered that goats and 
sheep will not bear on the day after the disappearance of the 
moon. 100 The Akamba, a tribe related to the Akikuyu, believe 
that on the day which completes the month no child is born and 
no domestic animal gives birth. One of the Akamba clans is called 
mu-mwei (mwei signifying "moon"), and by the members of this 
clan no house may be swept on the last day of the month. 101 

The time of new moon and full moon, much less commonly of 
each half -moon, may be a season when taboos are imposed and 
placatory rites observed. The very newness of the moon, rising 
apparently from the dead, is an element of interest; its contrasts, 
in shape, size, and position in the heavens, to the old moon, further 
deepen the impression of its significance; and its function of in- 
augurating the month not only gives to it a special place in calen- 
dar systems but also invests it with the emotional importance be- 
longing to the commencement of any new period. These ideas of 
lunar influence are naturally extended to the full moon, which is 
often regarded as marking the division of the lunar month, and 
in some instances to the half-moons, as indicating the other prom- 
inent stages in a lunation. 

The Hawaiians observed four taboo periods, of two nights and 
one day each, in a lunation. These were dedicated, respectively, 
to the four great gods of the native pantheon. The first was that 
of Ku, from the third to the sixth night ; the second, that of Hua, 
at full moon, including the fourteenth and fifteenth nights; the 
third, that of Kaloa, on the twenty- fourth and twenty-fifth nights ; 
and the fourth, that of Kane, on the twenty-seventh and twenty- 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 245 

eighth nights. During these taboo periods a devout ruler generally 
remained in the temple, engaged in prayer and sacrifice. Women 
at such times were forbidden to enter canoes. Sexual intercourse 
was also prohibited. 102 

Various Bornean peoples observe lunar taboos. Among the 
Land Dayak at full moon and on the third day thereafter, "no 
farm work may be done, unless it is wished that the paddy should 
be devoured by blight and mildew. In some tribes the unlucky 
days are those of the new and full moon and its first and third 
quarters." 108 "At certain seasons of the moon, just before and 
just after the full," the Sea Dayak tribes "do not work at their 
farms ; and what with bad omens, sounds, signs, adverse dreams 
and deaths, two-thirds of their time is not spent in farm labour/' 104 
The Kayan call the full moon the "evil moon" and at this time 
suspend all important business, such as house-building and boat- 
building. 105 

The Sakai, an aboriginal people occupying the center of the 
Malay Peninsula, observe a three days' taboo of work on the 
plantations when the moon "falls" at the rising of the sun; when 
the moon is at the full and looks "swelled" ; and when the moon 
has begun to decline and is "notched like a reaping knife." A 
similar taboo, lasting two days, is in force when the old moon 
is about to die. Were the taboo broken, someone in the house 
would die. Moreover, no work may be done for two days when the 
new moon appears, lest wild pigs come and ravage the crops. Thus 
among the Sakai thirteen days out of every lunar month are not 
available for agricultural operations. 108 

Many African peoples entertain pronounced ideas regarding 
the unfavorable influence of the moon's changes on human activ- 
ities. The Zulu welcome the appearance of the new moon with 
demonstrations of joy, but on the following day they abstain from 
all labor, "thinking that if anything is sown on those days they 
can never reap the benefits thereof." 107 The Bapiri, a tribe of the 
Bechuana stock, stay at home at new moon and do not go out to 
the fields. "They believe that if they should set about their labor 
at such a season, the millet would remain in the ground without 
sprouting, or that the ear would fail to fill, or that it would be 
destroyed by rust." 108 Of another Bechuana tribe, the missionary 
Livingstone remarks, "There is no stated day of rest in any part 
of this country except the day after the appearance of the new 
moon, and the people then refrain only from going to their gar- 
dens." 109 



246 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

The Baziba, who dwell to the west and southwest of Lake 
Victoria, are said to be one of the few tribes in this part of Africa 
having "a recognized day of rest, independently of the Chris- 
tians' Sabbath. The two first days of every moon are universal 
holidays." 110 The Akamba consider it very unlucky to move cat- 
tle or livestock of any kind from one place to another, or even 
to give presents of any stock, during the first four days of the 
new moon. 111 The Mendi of Sierra Leone hold a new-moon festi- 
val, when they abstain from all work, "alleging that if they in- 
fringed this rule corn and rice would grow red, the new moon 
being a 'day of blood'." 112 

The mystic dangerousness of strange persons, strange regions, 
strange objects, and strange natural phenomena likewise attaches 
to occasions when the normal current of the community life is in- 
terrupted and when what may be called a crisis presents itself. 
In general, any time of special significance inaugurating a new 
era or marking the transition from one state to another, any time 
of storm and stress, any time when untoward events have oc- 
curred or are expected to occur may be invested with taboos de- 
signed to meet the emergency and to ward off the threatened dan- 
ger or disaster. Taboos are also commonly imposed in connection 
with important undertakings, such as a military expedition, the 
commencement of the fishing season, the first planting, harvest- 
ing, and house-building. 

On all these occasions a period of abstinence and quiescence 
is rigidly enforced. The ordinary occupations may be suspended, 
fasting and continence required, public assemblage discontinued, 
fires and lights extinguished, songs, dances, and loud noises for- 
bidden, and the settlement closed or quarantined against out- 
siders. Such negative regulations closely resemble some of the 
observances which mark the great crises in human life at birth, 
puberty, marriage, and death. It is reasonable to conclude that, 
with the deepening sense of social solidarity, observances once 
confined to the individual or to his immediate connections would 
often pass over into those performed by the community at large 
or would, at any rate, provide a model for them. We cannot al- 
ways discover the particular reasons which account for them, but 
they would seem to be expressions of an ancient doctrine "In 
quietness shall be your strength/' 113 

Periods of communal abstinence are not known in Australia, 
and only faint indications of them have been found in New Guinea 
and the Melanesian Islands. They are, or have been, numerous 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 247 

among the Polynesians, the Indonesian inhabitants of Borneo 
and other islands of the East Indies, and also am6ng the Tibeto- 
Burman peoples of southeastern Asia, particularly of Assam and 
Burma. The many resemblances which the custom under con- 
sideration exhibits throughout this wide area may perhaps be 
explained as the outcome of an extensive and long-continued dif- 
fusion of cultural elements from the Asiatic mainland over the 
island world of the Pacific. Similar taboo periods are observed in 
Africa. 114 

In the Society Islands and the Marquesas Islands the bonito 
fishing in November or December opened with a ceremony re- 
moving the prohibition which had previously rested on the cap- 
ture of that fish. A strict taboo of all activity marked the first 
day of the proceedings: no one could approach the seashore, or 
make a fire, or cook food, or even eat before the going-down of 
the sun. The customary employments of the men in canoe-building 
and house-building and of the women in the preparation of cloths, 
mats, and thread were abandoned; "in a word, all work was for- 
bidden; it was a day of silence and devotion." Meanwhile the 
priests remained in the temple, engaged in prayer, and their as- 
sistants prepared an altar to receive the first fish caught. At night- 
fall the single canoe which had gone forth to the fishing returned 
with the catch of bonito. Several of the largest fish were placed 
on the altar, and the others were entirely consumed in a blazing 
fire before the altar. The fish caught on this day belonged to the 
gods and those caught on the following day to the high priest, 
but on the third day fishing was opened to all. 115 

Among the Maori the preparations for mackerel fishing in- 
cluded the observances of various taboos. All persons engaged in 
making or mending nets, the ground where the nets were made, 
and the river, on the banks of which the work went on, were in a 
state of taboo. Nobody might walk over the ground, no canoe . 
might pass up or down the river, no fire might be made within a 
prescribed distance, and no food might be prepared until the taboo 
season came to an end. 118 

The Maori also observed communal taboos in connection with 
the planting of the kumara, or sweet potato, a very important 
article of food. When the time to plant came, "everything was 
tapu. The people fasted and did no cooking. The waters of the 
lake were tapu; no canoes were allowed to put out and no fishing 
was done." The skull of a tribal chief of high rank was disin- 
terred and placed in the garden, in order that its occult power 



248 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

(mana) might guard the plantation and assist in securing a boun- 
tiful harvest. 117 

On the island of Yap, one of the Carolines, two old "wizards," 
before whom all important questions come for decision, have the 
power of laying taboos on an entire village. The periods of se- 
clusion and abstinence have been known to last for six months. 
The critical occasions giving rise to their imposition are a time 
of drought, famine, or sickness; after the death of a chief or 
famous man; and before a fishing expedition. "In short, any great 
public event is thus celebrated, and, in fact, there is always a tabu 
in full swing somewhere or other, to the great disgust of the 
traders, who only see in these enforced holidays an excuse for 
idling, drunkenness, and debauchery." 118 

The periods of enforced idleness, abstention from sexual inter- 
course, and other restrictions, observed by the inhabitants of the 
Mentawei Islands, are known as punan. The "great" punan arises 
from any circumstance which vitally affects the welfare of the 
community: when a chief erects a house for himself, when a new 
chief is inaugurated or a new priest is chosen, when a village is 
visited by an epidemic, or when a villager has been killed by a 
crocodile. The "little" punan relates rather to individuals and to 
families. Many are the occasions when it is imposed at house- 
building, at the setting out of a garden, at boat-making, and when 
a native leaves his village to settle elsewhere. It is especially 
obligatory for women during pregnancy, at childbirth, and for 
eight months thereafter. It occurs also as an accompaniment of 
marriage, when there is sickness in a family, and when some mem- 
ber of the household has died. All crises in the communal and 
individual life of the people are thus kept as periods of restriction ; 
in some cases, however, these have become festivals and holi- 
days. 119 

When the people of Bali are confronted by some real or imag- 
inary danger, such as an epidemic, an earthquake, or a lunar eclipse, 
they at once take measures to drive away the evil spirits which 
have caused the ominous event. This object is supposed to be 
accomplished partly by verbal commands. "Go away ! go away !" 
addressed to the demons, and partly by means of an unearthly up- 
roar of shouting and knocking. Then follow two days of absolute 
silence, the stillness of the grave. During this period, known as 
sept, no one ventures out of doors and no strangers are admitted 
to the village. Even the usual domestic work, including cooking, 
is discontinued. The interdict against all activity is lifted on the 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 249 

third day, but even then work in the rice field and buying and 
selling in the markets are forbidden. The evil spirits, it is be- 
lieved, would like to return at once to their old haunts; hence 
they must be led to think that Bali is not Bali but some uninhab- 
ited island. 120 

Among the Kayan of Dutch Borneo the whole period of rice 
cultivation, from the initial task of selecting a site to the final 
storing of the rice in the granaries, is supposed to be subject to 
supernatural influences. Without the consent of the spirits no 
farm work may be undertaken ; without a strict regimen of sacri- 
fices and taboos their aid cannot be secured for the growth and 
maturing of the crops. An observer, who has described in detail 
the agricultural rites of the Kayan, tells us that the sowing festi- 
val lasts several weeks and that during this period certain com- 
munal regulations are enforced. On the first day of the festival 
everyone, except the very old and the very young, must refrain 
from bathing ; then for eight successive days no work may be done 
and no intercourse may be held with neighboring communities. 
The presence of strangers, so the people believe, would frighten 
or annoy the spirits and consequently endanger the welfare of the 
crops. After the rites at sowing come those which inaugurate 
the hoeing of the fields, and finally the harvest festival, eight days 
in duration, when the rice has been safely garnered and the long 
period of labor and anxiety is at an end. 121 

With the Naga tribes of Manipur, as with the Kayan of Dutch 
Borneo, the regular communal taboos are for the most part con- 
nected with the crops. "Among all these tribes from the day of 
the first crop genna to the final harvest home all other forms of 
industry and activity are forbidden. All hunting, fishing, tree- 
and grass-cutting, all weaving, pot-making, salt-working, games 
of all kinds, bugling, dancing, all trades are strictly forbidden 
are genna lest the grain in the ear be lost/' 122 Similar taboos 
are imposed on many other occasions. A rain-compelling cere- 
mony, when the headman works magic for the benefit of the entire 
village, is accompanied by a genna. Communal genna are also 
proclaimed after the occurrence of unusual phenomena, such as 
earthquakes, eclipses of the sun or moon, and the appearance of 
comets. The destruction of a village by fire makes necessary, a 
genna before any steps are taken to rebuild the houses. Such an 
event indicates that spirits inimical to the people are about and 
active ; consequently the mere sight of a neighboring village afire 
is enough to require the imposition of a genna. The outbreak of 



250 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

an epidemic sickness, the occurrence of mysterious cases of death, 
the return to the village of a party of warriors with heads taken 
in a foray, the deliberations of the village council, and the annual 
festival of the dead are likewise followed by genna. 123 An early 
writer, commenting on these practices among the Angami Naga, 
remarks that there is "no end to the reasons on which a kennie 
must or may be declared, and as it consists of a general holiday 
when no work is done, this Angami Sabbath appears to be rather 
a popular institution." 124 

Periods of communal abstinence and quiescence are observed* 
by various African peoples. Among the Basuto "certain solemn 
and important circumstances demand the consecration of certain 
days of repose. They abstain from all public labor on the day 
when an influential man dies. At the approach of clouds which 
give promise of rain they abstain from going to their fields, or 
they hasten to leave them, in order quietly to await the desired 
benediction, fearing to disturb Nature in her operations. This 
idea is carried to such an extent that most of the natives believe 
that, if they obstinately persist in their labor at such a moment, 
the clouds are irritated and retire, or send hail instead of rain. 
Days of sacrifice, or great purification, are also holidays. Hence 
it is that the law relative to the repose of the seventh day, so far 
from finding any objection in the minds of the natives, appears 
to them very natural, and perhaps even more fundamental than 
it seems to certain Christians." 126 

With the northern clans of the Thonga the establishment of 
a new kraal is a most momentous business, giving rise to a great 
number of positive regulations, abstinences, and prohibitions ob- 
served by the inhabitants. The period, about a month in length, 
during which the moving takes place, is dominated by two great 
taboos. First, sexual relations are absolutely forbidden. Any vio- 
lation of this rule will cause the headman to become ill, perhaps 
paralyzed, while the guilty woman will never be able to bear chil- 
dren again. Second, no one may wash his body during the month, 
for doing so might cause the rain to fall and thus interfere with 
the building operations. When the new huts and the fence around 
them have been completed, the men and the women assemble in 
two separate groups and ask each other if they have observed 
their vows of continence. If one of them confesses to having 
sinned, the whole work is spoiled and must be begun elsewhere. If 
all have managed to remain continent for the month, they pro- 
ceed to a purifying ceremony similar to that which takes place 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 251 

during the mourning rites. Each couple has sexual relations ac- 
cording to a fixed order of precedence, one couple every night, 
and then they all go and trample on the spot where the women 
wash their hands. Very similar ceremonies of removal are ob- 
served by the Ronga clans of the same tribe. With these clans 
still other taboos are enforced. No one may light any fire in a 
village until it has been quite finished, and crushing mealies in 
mortars and dancing are also forbidden. Whistling is likewise 
under the ban, as it might result in the village becoming bewitched 
before the medicine man had protected it with his charms. Our 
informant points out that among these ceremonies for the removal 
of a village there are many features also met in the boys' initia- 
tion rites and the mourning for the dead, and that this resemblance 
finds an explanation in the common need of removing ritual im- 
purity. All the adult members take part in the cleansing process, 
and so the new village begins a new and purified life. 128 

The Nandi, probably in former times a hunting tribe, have 
now taken to agriculture and raise large crops of millet and 
eleusine grain. The process of farming is invested by them with 
many restrictions : no one while in a plantation may carry a spear 
or rest a spear on the earth ; thigh-belts must not be worn ; a hide 
must not be dragged along the ground; and whistling is strictly 
forbidden. Work is prohibited for an entire day following an 
earthquake, a phenomenon which Nandi speculation, in common 
with other savage philosophies, attributes to the movements of 
underground spirits. "After an earthquake or a hailstorm, when 
a death has occurred in the family, if a hoe breaks, or a beast of 
prey seizes a goat, no work may be performed in the fields for the 
rest of the day and for twenty-four hours afterwards, as it is 
believed that any sick person who eats the grain when harvested, or 
who drinks beer made from the grain, will die, and that pregnant 
women will abort." 127 

Among the Bakongo and other tribes of the Lower Congo 
region when there is much sickness in a town, or on account of 
drought, or because many pigs or goats have died, or because the 
animals and fowls will not breed properly in short if much 
bad luck has been experienced "the whole town is placed under 
certain restrictions, such as 'that nothing tied up is to be carried 
into or through the town/ and consequently all bundles and par- 
cels must be undone outside the town and carried loosely into it ; 
or the restriction may be that no water is to be carried into the 
town on the head of any person, and thus every woman as she 



252 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

draws near to the town takes her water-bottle from its well- 
poised position on her head and carries it in her arms. These 
restrictions are removed when they are supposed to have served 
their purpose." 128 

The Guinea Negroes perform annual rites for the expulsion 
of evil spirits. The ceremony of demon-riddance, formerly held 
at Cape Coast Castle, on the Gold Coast, was intended to drive 
the devil Abonsam out of the town by means of a great uproar 
of shouts, screams, beating of sticks, rattling of pans, and firing 
of guns, in which proceedings all the inhabitants joined. "The 
custom is preceded by four weeks* dead silence ; no gun is allowed 
to be fired, no drum to be beaten, no palaver to be made between 
man and man. If, during these weeks, two natives should disagree 
and make a noise in the town, they are immediately taken before 
the king and fined heavily. If a dog or pig, sheep or goat be found 
at large in the street, it may be killed, or taken by anyone, the 
former owner not being allowed to demand any compensation. 
This silence is designed to deceive Abonsam, that, being off his 
guard, he may be taken by surprise and frightened out of the 
place." 129 

Some of the Nigerian peoples celebrate a festival called obaza 
for fifteen days after they have cleared the ground for their new 
crops. At this time many kinds of work are prohibited, no woman 
may make cloth, nor may anyone labor on his farm under penalty 
of a fine for doing so. If a man did any planting while the festival 
continued, a leopard might carry off his wife or child to the farm 
on which he worked. The festival is said to be celebrated in order 
that the crops may be abundant. 130 

The economic maladjustment often resulting from these taboos 
observed upon critical occasions is real ; the taboos slow up the 
pace of work, diminish production, and, in extreme cases, when 
they are very frequently imposed, the result is the impoverish- 
ment of the community. Too many compulsory holidays, espe- 
cially when not periodic in character, result in fitful, intermittent 
labor rather than in a steady and continuous occupation. On the 
other hand, the negative regulations have often a definite psycho- 
logical value. They represent a kind of folk technique for the 
avoidance of possible pollution or the unwelcome attentions of the 
spirits. The consciousness that all precautions have been taken is 
itself invigorating: the social group goes forward, henceforth, 
with renewed strength and confidence to the tasks which lie be- 
fore it. 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 253 

NOTES TO CHAPTER VI 

1 See Sir P. J. Hamilton-Grierson, "Strangers," Hastings' Encyclopedia 
of Religion and Ethics, XI, 883-%; Sir J. G. Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of 
the Soul (London, 1911), pp. 101-16 (The Golden Bough, 3d ed., Part II) ; 
A. van Gennep, Les rites de passage (Paris, 1909), pp. 35-56. 

2 James Dawson, Australian Aborigines (Melbourne, 1881), pp. 18, 53. 

3 Sir Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, The Northern Tribes of Central 
Australia (London, 1904), pp. 31 f. Of the Australian aborigines, generally, 
E. M. Curr remarks that they believe all strangers are in league to take their 
lives by sorcery. Hence they hate strangers and regularly massacre those of 
the male sex who fall into their power (7 'he Australian Race [Melbourne, 1886- 
1887], I, 85). 

* M. J. V. Saville, In Unknown New Guinea (London, 1926), p. 281. 

5 Margaret Mead, in Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of 
Natural History, XXXVII, 355 f. 

6 George Turner, Samoa (London, 1884), pp. 305 f. Cf. A. W. Murray, 
Missions in Western Polynesia (London, 1863), pp. 360, 368. 

7 J. G. F. Riedel, De sluik-en-kroesharige rassen tusschen Celebes en Papua 
('s Gravenhage, 1886), p. 306. 

8 Charles Hose and William McDougall, The Pagan Tribes of Borneo 
(London, 1912), I, 158. Cf. A. W. Nieuwenhuis, Quer durch Borneo (Leiden, 
1904-1907), I, 74, 163. 

9 W. H. Furness, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 
XXXV (1896), 313. 

10 L. M. d'Albertis, New Guinea (London, 1880), I, 53. 

11 A. E. Pratt, in Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society (n.s., 
1891), XIII, 341. 

12 T. C. Hodson, The Naga Tribes of Afanipur (London, 1911), p. 177. 

13 J. P. Mills, The Rcngma Nagas (London, 1937), p. 201. 
^Idern, The Lhota Nagas (London, 1922), p. 146. 

18 A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, The Andaman Islanders, (Cambridge, 1933), pp. 
109 f ., 287. 

16 D. G. Mandelbaum, "Cultural Change among the Nilgiri Tribes," Ameri- 
can Anthropologist (n.s., 1941), XLIII, 19 f. 

17 H. A. Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed., London, 1927), 
I, 165. 

18 C. Dundas, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLV 
(1915), 274. 

C. W. Hobley, ibid., XLI (1911), 409. 

20 W. H. Bentley, Pioneering on the Congo (London, 1900), I, 137; cf. 
p. 166. 

21 E. Pecheul-Loesche, Volkskunde von Loango (Stuttgart, 1907), p. 210. 

22 A. W. Cardinall, In Ashanti and Beyond (London, 1927), p. 216. 

23 Rafael Karsten, The Civilisation of the South American Indians (London, 
1926), p. 470. 

24 Karl von den Steinen, Unter den Naturvolkcrn Zentral-Brasiliens (Ber- 
lin, 1894), pp. 232 f. 

25 R. I. Dodge, Our Wild Indians (Hartford, Conn., 1886), p. 119. 

26 W. Bogoras, in American Anthropologist (n.s., 1901), III, 97. 



254 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

27 E. H. Eraser, in Journal of the China Branch of the Royal Asiatic So- 
ciety (n.s., 1891-1892), XXVI, 15. 

28 R. B. Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria (Melbourne, 1878), I, 134. 

29 R. H. Mathews, Ethnological Notes on the Aboriginal Tribes of New 
South Wales and Victoria (Sydney, 1905), p. 59. According to A. W. Howitt 
a stranger has to drink muddy water, three mouthfuls on each occasion of the 
ceremony. These he must let trickle slowly down his throat; if he did other- 
wise, his throat would close up (The Native Tribes of South-East Australia 
[London, 1904], p. 403, referring to the Jajaurung, a tribe of Victoria). 

80 Turner, Samoa, pp. 291 f. 

81 E. Best, "Maori Religion and Mythology," Dominion Museum Bulletin., 
No. 10, p. 238. 

82 Nieuwenhuis, Quer durch Borneo, II, 102 ; idem, In Centraal Borneo 
(Leiden, 1900), I, 165. 

83 fi. Aymonier, Notes sur le Laos (Saigon, 1885), p. 196. 

84 Hodson, The Naga Tribes of Manipur, p. 135. 
35 Mills, The Rengma Nagas, p. 225. 

86 W. C. Willoughby, Nature-Worship and Taboo (Hartford, Conn., 1932), 
p. 222 and note. According to an early authority, the Bechuana purified them- 
selves after a journey by shaving their heads, "lest they should have contracted 
from strangers some evil by witchcraft or sorcery" (John Campbell, Travels 
in South Africa .... Second Journey [London, 1822], II, 205). 

87 D. F. Ellenberger, History of the Basuto, Ancient and Modern (London, 
1913), p. 260. 

88 Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed.), I, 153, 313 f. 

89 Ladislaus Magyar, Reisen in Siid-Afrika (Pest and Leipzig, 1859), p. 203. 
4 H. L. Roth, Great Benin (Halifax, England, 1903), p. 123. 

41 Edward Westermarck, Ritual and Belief in Morocco (London, 1926), I, 
540. 

42 W. Matthews, in Fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 410. 
48 Howitt, Native Tribes of South-East Australia, p. 485 ; cf. p. 403. The 

Bloomfield tribes of Queensland recognize the existence of a nature spirit named 
Yirru, who lives in the ground. "The older men, to whom the country origi- 
nally belonged, will give out that certain tracts of it are 'yirru,' with the result 
that if any females or males (other than themselves) eat or camp there, or 
disturb the soil in any way whatever, this spirit will punish them with grievous 
sores, etc." (W. E. Roth, North Queensland Ethnography Bulletin, No. 5, 
p. 291). 

44 Edward Shortland, Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders 
(2d ed., London, 1856), p. 103. 

Junod, op. cit. (2d ed.), II, 480. 

46 Curr, The Australian Race, I, 58. 

47 James Chalmers and W. W. Gill, Work and Adventure in New Guinea 
(London, 1885), p. 159. 

48 Sir William MacGregor, in Annual Report on British New Guinea, 1896- 
1897 (Brisbane, 1898), p. 12. 

49 J. L. Nicholas, Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand (London, 1817), 
p. 254. 

o Frank Hatton, North Borneo (London, 1886), p. 233. 
i B. Josef, in Man, XXXV (1935), 101. 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 255 

w W. Crooke, in Folk-Lore, XIV (1903), 103. 

88 E. W. Smith and A. M. Dale, The Ila-speaking Peoples of Northern 
Rhodesia, II (London, 1920), 89. 

84 C. Dundas, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLIII 
(1913), 525. By the Bakongo the forge of a blacksmith is considered sacred, 
and they never steal from it. If anyone did so he would contract a severe form 
of hernia; if anyone was bold enough to sit on the anvil, his legs would be- 
come swollen (J. H. Weeks, Among the Primitive Bakongo [London, 1914], 
p. 249). On superstitions connected with iron see Frazer, Taboo and the Perils 
of the Soul, pp. 224-39, who suggests that they reach back to "that early time 
in the history of society when iron was still a novelty, and as such was viewed 
by many with suspicion and dislike" (p. 230). 

85 G. C. Musters, At Home with the Patagonians (2d ed., London, 1873), 
p. 192. 

8 W. H. Brett, The Indian Tribes of Guiana (London, 1868), p. 363. 

87 W. M. Gabb, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 
XIV (1874-1875), 504. 

68 Ivan Petroff, Report on the Population, Industries, and Resources of 
Alaska (Department of the Interior, (Tenth Census, Vol. VIII) (Washington, 
D.C, 1884), pp. 159 f. 

89 J. H. Weeks, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XXXIX 
(1909), 135. 

60 Charles New, Life, Wanderings, and Labours in Eastern Africa (London, 
1874), p. 110. 

l S. Lehner, in R. Neuhauss, Deutsch Neu-Guinea (Berlin, 1911), III, 466. 
This superstition is widespread. In the Loyalty Islands, if a rainbow appeared 
frequently, it was regarded as a harbinger of a famine or a hurricane. Children 
were strictly forbidden to point at one, for doing so would cause their mothers 
to die (Emma Hadfield, Among the Natives of the Loyalty Group [London, 
1920], p. 113). The Marshall Islanders think that if anyone points at a rainbow, 
the finger with which he points will become crooked (August Erdland, Die 
Marshall-Insulaner [Miinster in Westfalen, 1914], p. 340. The Dusun of 
Borneo believe that the finger will rot (I. H. N. Evans, Studies in Religion, 
Folk-Lore, and Custom in British North Borneo and the Malay Peninsula 
[Cambridge, 1923], p. 15). When the Karen see a rainbow in the west early in 
the morning, they say that the king of Hades has again appeared to set up a 
funeral post for his children. Such a post is intended to remind them that many 
of their number have died without receiving the proper funeral rites and that 
some sort of calamity will follow in consequence of the neglect. So the people 
are terrorized when the rainbow appears, especially if it is accompanied by 
thunder or an earthquake. If a native ever pointed to it, he would at once 
thrust his finger into his navel, in order to avoid the loss of the offending mem- 
ber (H. M. Marshall, The Karen People of Burma [Columbus, Ohio, 1922], 
p. 228). The Ao Naga say that it is very unlucky to point a finger at a rain- 
bow; the finger will become crooked if you do so (J. P. Mills, The Ao Nagas 
[London, 1926], p. 305). The Western Rengma believe that if you point at a 
rainbow you will become ill. The Eastern Rengma believe that you will have a 
child born to you with two fingers growing together. This calamity can be 
averted, however, by biting a whetstone at once (Mills, The Rengma Nagas, 
p. 245). The Cherokee will not point at the rainbow, fearing lest the finger 
swell at the lower joint and become permanently misshapen. A similar belief 
is found among many other Indian tribes. See James Mooney, "Myths of the 
Cherokee," Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 



256 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Part I, pp. 257, 442. The Fan of French Equatorial Africa believe that twins 
should never look at a rainbow, but the reason assigned by the natives for this 
belief is not stated by our authority. See fi. Allegret, "Les idees religieuses des 
Fan (Afrique Occidental), " Revue de I'histoire des religions, L (1904), 217. 

62 Fay-Cooper Cole, The Wild Tribes of the Davao District, Mindanao 
(Chicago, 1913), p. 183. 

68 New, op. cit., p. 432. 

64 J. M. Cooper, in Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 60, 
p. 154, citing C. R. Gallardo, Los Onas (Buenos Aires, 1910), pp. 339 ff. 

65 M. W. Sterling, ibid., No. 117, p. 116. All the principal nature gods and 
culture heroes of the Jivaro are endowed with tsarutama, the "impersonal magi- 
cal force" which gives supernatural properties to certain classes of animals, 
plants, and natural phenomena (idem, "Jivaro Shamanism," Proceedings of the 
American Philosophical Society, LXII [1933], 137). 

68 W. E. Roth, "An Inquiry into the Animism and Folk-Lore of the Guiana 
Indians," Thirtieth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 
252 f. 

67 E. F. Im Thurn, Among the Indians of Guiana (London, 1883), pp. 368 f. 
"The extreme pain of this operation, when performed thoroughly by the Indians, 
I can faintly realize from my own feelings when I have occasionally rubbed my 
eyes with fingers which had recently handled red peppers; and from the fact 
that, though the older practitioners inflict this self-torture with the utmost 
stoicism, I have again and again seen that otherwise rare sight of Indian chil- 
dren, and even young men, sobbing under the infliction" (loc. cit,). 

68 R. H. Schomburgk, in Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, VI 
(1836), 229. 

69 W. E. Roth, in Thirtieth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Eth- 
nology, p. 299. 

70 W. M. Gabb, in Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 
XIV (1874-1875), 504 f . 

71 Fridtjof Nansen, Eskimo Life (London, 1894), p. 233. 

72 Petroff, op. cit., p. 153. 

73 W. E. Roth, North Queensland Ethnography Bulletin, No. 5, pp. 6, 21. 

74 Edward Tregear, The Maori Race (Wanganui, New Zealand, 1904), 
p. 201. 

75 I. H. N. Evans, The Negritos of Malaya (Cambridge, 1937), pp. 170 ff. 
The tabooed actions are very miscellaneous in character. Among the Jehai 
they include the killing of a millipede, shooting a certain species of owl with 
the blowpipe, flashing a mirror in the open air, and having intercourse with 
one's wife in the daytime. The Lanoh consider that laughing at a cat or a dog 
is extremely displeasing to the higher powers. Other acts which may bring on 
punishment in the shape of a storm are marriages among near relatives, dis- 
respectful methods of address between relatives, and too great intimacy among 
boys and girls (pp. 172 ff.). Similar notions are found among the Sakai of 
the Malay Peninsula, the peninsular Malays, and the Orang Dusun of British 
North Borneo (pp. 81 f., 87 f., 199 ff., 271 f.). 

76 J. H. Hutton, The Sema Nagas (London, 1921), p. 262. 

77 Mills, The Ao Nagas, p. 305. 

78 John Maclean, A Compendium of Kafir Laws and Customs (Mount Coke, 
South Africa, 1858), pp. 85 f., 122; Dudley Kidd, The Essential Kafir (2d ed., 
London, 1925), pp. 124 f. 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 257 

79 George Thompson, Travels and Adventures in Southern Africa (Lon- 
don, 1827), p. 352. The missionary, Joseph Shooter, repeats this statement al- 
most verbatim (The Kafirs of Natal and the Zulu Country [London, 1857], 
p. 217). 

180 Henry Callaway, The Religious System of the Amajsulu (London, 1870), 
p. 380 and note 30, pp. 402 f. This Zulu "inoculation," by the infusion of some 
matter from a tabooed object into a person, who thereby becomes immune 
against the evil resident in the object, may be compared with a practice found 
among the Konde of Nyasaland. After the grave of a chief has been filled up, 
the members of the burial party partake of a medicine made from the clippings 
of the dead man's nails and hair. This is done, we are informed, to prevent the 
disease which killed him from spreading to the survivors (D. R. MacKenzie, 
The Spirit-ridden Konde [London, 1925], pp. 301 f.). 

sijunod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed.), I, 319; II, 313 ff. 
Thonga magicians know how to make a powerful charm from the flesh, feathers, 
and urine of the marvelous lightning bird. The charm is put in a place where a 
theft has been committed, then the clouds begin to appear, and toward evening 
a storm breaks. Lightning strikes the thief in his hut and causes the stolen 
article to appear. "I saw this happen," declared a native. To a Thonga charm 
used to protect gardens against thieves there is added a little powder obtained 
by burning a branch from a tree which has been struck by lightning (that is, 
by Heaven). Sometimes the magician will burn branches of the tree in the 
garden and bring them near to the growing plants in order that these may be 
surrounded by the smoke. If a thief enters a garden, "Heaven will kill him," 
say the natives (II, 442 ff.). Among the Bakwena, when a hut is to be purified 
after the owner's death, the medicine man in charge of the proceedings carries 
a splinter from a tree that had been blasted by a stroke of lightning, a tree so 
"terribly taboo" that he would never dare touch it until he had first fortified 
himself with very potent charms (Willoughby, Nature Worship and Taboo, 
pp. 205 f.). Thus what is in the highest degree sacred can be used to counter- 
act the baleful influence emanating from what is in the highest degree polluted. 

82 A. C. Hollis, The Nandi (Oxford, 1909), pp. 9, 45, 86 and note 5, pp. 92, 
99. 

83 Sir H. H. Johnston, The Luanda Protectorate (2d ed., London, 1904), 
II, 794. 

84 K. R. Dundas, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLIII 
(1913), 49. 

fl John Roscoe, The Soul of Central Africa (London, 1922), p. 158. 

86 R. P. H. Trilles, Le tottmisme ches les Pan (Minister in Westfalen, 
1912), pp. 338 IT. 

8 7 P. A. Talbot, The Peoples of Southern Nigeria (Oxford, 1926), III, 708 f. 

88 A. B. Ellis, The Ewe-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa 
(London, 1890), pp. 37 ff. 

89 G. Goodwin, "White Mountain Apache Religion," American Anthro- 
pologist (n.s., 1938), XL, 26 ff. Apache men and women wear amulets made of 
lightning-riven wood, generally pine, cedar, or fir from the mountain tops. 
These objects are cut in the semblance of the human form and decorated with 
incised lines representing the lightning. Captain Bourke once saw a sacred bundle 
which he was allowed to feel but not to open. It contained some of the lightning- 
riven twigs "upon which they place such dependence" (J. G. Bourke, in Ninth 
Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, pp. 465, 587). By the Maricopa 
lightning-struck trees are avoided for fear of contracting some sickness (Leslie 
Spier, Yuman Tribes of the Gila River [Chicago, 1933], p. 295). 



258 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

90 J. O. Dorsey, "A Study of Siouan Cults," Eleventh Annual Report of the 
Bureau of Ethnology, p. 420; idem, "Omaha Folk-Lore Notes," Journal of 
American Folk-Lore, II (1889), 90. The Creek Indians believed that one who 
had been struck by lightning and "lived to tell the tale" could cure diseases of 
all kinds (J. R. Swanton, "Religious Beliefs and Medical Practices of the Creek 
Indians," Forty-second Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 
p. 638). 

9 * See H. Webster, Rest Days (New York, 1916), pp. 14 f., 20, 32 and note 
2, p. 34 and note 1, pp. 37, 131-38, 144-49. See also Robert Briffault, The 
Mothers (New York, 1927), II, 422 if. 

92 Hodson, The Naga Tribes, pp. 166 f. 

w W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas (London, 1906), pp. 580, 592. 

94 Edgar Thurston, Omens and Superstitions of Southern India (London 
and Leipzig, 1912), p. 44. 

98 R. G. Chaube, "Some of the Most Popular Beliefs and Superstitions of 
the Hindus of Northern India," Journal of the Anthropological Society of 
Bombay, V, 326. 

96 W. E. H. Barrett, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 
XLI (1911), 35. 

97 L. Gengnagel, "Volksglaube und Wahrsagerei an der Westkiiste In- 
diens," Ausland, LXIV (1891), 871 f. If a cow calves on the new-moon day, 
her milk, it is believed, will kill the owner (P. Kershasp, "Some Superstitions 
Prevailing among the Canarese-speaking Peoples of Southern India," Journal 
of the Anthropological Society of Bombay, VII, 84). 

98 R. B. Bainbridge, in Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, II (1907- 
1910), 50. 

99 J. Y. Gibson, The Story of the Zulus (London, 1911), p. 175. 

100 W. S. Routledge and Katherine Routledge, With a Prehistoric People 
(London, 1910), p. 284. 

101 C. W. Hobley, Ethnology of A-Kamba and Other East African Tribes 
(Cambridge, 1910), p. 53. 

102 w. D. Alexander, A Brief History of the Hawaiian People (New York, 
1899), pp. 50 ff.; David Malo, Hawaiian Antiquities (Honolulu, 1903), p. 56. 
Malo, a native writer, versed in Hawaiian antiquities, declares that the seasons 
of taboo were not observed during the four makahiki months of the year, when 
the regular religious services were suspended for games and ceremonies in honor 
of the god Lono. The same statement is made by A. Fornander (An Account of 
the Polynesian Race [London, 1878], I, 123, note 2). 

IDS William Chalmers, in H. L. Roth, The Natives of Sarawak and British - 
North Borneo (London, 1896), I, 401. 

10 * Charles Brooke, Ten Years in Sarawak (London, 1866), I, 149. 
105 Nieuwenhuis, Quer durch Borneo, I, 415. 

106 1. H. N. Evans, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 
XLVIII (1918), 183. 

107 Lieutenant Farewell, in W. F. W. Owen, Narrative of Voyages to Ex- 
plore the Shores of Africa, Arabia, and Madagascar (London, 1833), II, 397. 

108 G. W. Stow, The Native Races of South Africa (London, 1905), p. 414. 

109 David Livingstone, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa 
(London, 1857), p. 235. An earlier writer, referring to the Bechuana in 
general, says that when the new moon appears, "all must cease from work, and 



STRANGERS AND STRANGE PHENOMENA 259 

keep what is called in England a holiday" (Campbell, Travels in South Africa 
.... Second Journey, II, 205). 

110 J. F. Cunningham, Uganda and Its Peoples (London, 1905), p. 294. 

111 Hobley, Ethnology of A-Kamba and Other East African Tribes, p. 104. 

112 Ellis, The Yoruba-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, 
p. 146. 

118 Evans- Pritchard points out that when taboos are put on the routine 
activities of a community, in connection with important undertakings, the at- 
tention of its members is focused on the importance of the business in hand. 
Thus prohibitions of sexual intercourse, the eating of certain foods, dancing, and 
the like put a drive behind the labor to be accomplished. He compares taboos 
forbidding a man to do what he is normally accustomed to do with the ritual 
obscenity permitted or even prescribed on certain occasions. "A common func- 
tion of both the taboo and of the special acts of obscenity is to make a break 
in the ordinary routine of an individual's life and so give emphasis to the social 
value of the activity with which the taboo and the obscenity are associated" 
(E. E. Evans- Pritchard, "Some Collective Expressions of Obscenity in Africa," 
Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, LIX [1929], 325, 328 f.). 

114 See Webster, Rest Days, pp. 8-61. 

115 J. A. Moerenhout, Voyages aux lies du grand ocean (Paris, 1837), I, 

516f. See also Mathias G [Garcia], Lettres sur les ties Marquises (Paris, 

1843), p. 210. 

116 William Yate, An Account of New Zealand (London, 1835), p. 85. 

117 James Cowan, The Maoris of New Zealand (Melbourne, 1910), pp. 116 f. 

118 F. W. Christian, The Caroline Islands (London, 1899), p. 290. 

i" A. Maass, "Ta-ka-kai-kai Tabu," Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, XXXVII 
(1905), 155f. The greater part of this article is concerned with the analogies 
between the taboo system in the Mentawei Islands and related systems in Indo- 
nesia and Polynesia. For a later account of these seasons of restrictions see 
E. M. Loeb, "Mentawei Social Organization," American Anthropologist (n.s., 
1928), XXX, 415 ff. The author calls them punen and cites a Dutch authority 
(J. F. K. Hansen, in Bijdragen tot de Taal-Land-en Volkenkunde van Neder- 
landsch-Indie, LII [1915], 174), who declares that the natives are in a state of 
punen, with its attendant taboos, for about ten months in the year. "The punen 
system brings enforced idleness, prolonged abstention from sexual intercourse 
for longer periods than are known perhaps to any other people on earth, inter- 
mittent periods of feast and famine, and an utter inability of the people to ab- 
sorb foreign elements of culture, such as the rearing of non-sacrificial animals 
(as cattle), or the cultivation of rice, which requires steady labor. On the other 
hand, it has lasted because of the insistence of the seers, who play upon the 
credulity of the people. Likewise, it appeals to the group feelings of the people, 
keeping them united in a brotherhood of faith, a common ownership of material 
possessions, and an equality of rank and prestige" (p. 419). 

120 R. van Eck, in Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch-Indie (n.s., 1879), VIII, 
58 ff. 

121 Nieuwenhuis, Quer durch Borneo, I, 166 ff. 

122 Hodson, The Naga Tribes, pp. 167 f. 
*Ibid., pp. 109, 144, 151 ff., 166 f., 173 ff. 

124 John Butler, in Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (n.s., 1875), 
Vol. XLV, Part I, p. 316. This observer describes the kennie as a system of 
taboo, "strikingly similar to that in vogue among the savages inhabiting the 
Pacific islands." 



260 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

8 E. Casalis, The Basutos (London, 1861), pp. 260 f. 

126 Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed.), I, 318 ff. 

12 * Hollis, The Nandi, p. 20. 

128 Weeks, Among the Primitive Bakongo, pp. 247 f. 

129 "Extracts from Diary of the late Rev. John Martin, Wesleyan Mission- 
ary in West Africa, 1843-1848," Man, XII (1912), 138 f. Cf. A. J. N. Tre- 
mearne, The Tailed Head-Hunters of Nigeria (London, 1912), pp. 202 f. 

13 N. W. Thomas, in Man, XVIII (1918), 141. 



CHAPTER VII 
SACRED PERSONS 



M.ANY persons, it has been shown, are in a state of temporary 
taboo by reason of their ritual uncleanness or pollution. The regu- 
lations imposed upon them are intended to prevent their occult 
power, their "virus" or "electric force/' from being discharged 
with unhappy results upon outsiders. There is also the intention 
to conserve and strengthen the vital energy of those who have be- 
come dangerous to themselves as well as to others and who, in 
consequence, require all possible aid to carry them safely through 
a critical period. 

Precisely the same attitude is exhibited toward a class of per- 
sons in a state of permanent taboo those chiefs, kings, magicians, 
and priests so commonly regarded as "sacred." On the one hand, 
they are feared and avoided, since they are not of common clay ; 
on the other hand, every precaution must be taken to prevent the 
dispersion of their sacredness. When taboos investing them are 
broken by an ordinary man, the sacred person may be defiled and 
deprived of his sanctity. The same result may follow when the 
culprit is the sacred person himself, who purposely or unwittingly 
disregards the customary rules and restraints under which he 
lives. Sometimes the ordinary man alone pays the penalty for 
sacrilege ; sometimes the sacred man alone suffers from the sacri- 
legious act; and sometimes, again, both parties are involved in a 
common disaster. 

If it seems strange that sacred persons should be treated in 
much the same fashion as polluted persons, the explanation lies in 
the ambivalence of the conception of taboo. Primitive thought 
does not clearly distinguish sacredness from uncleanness, what 
possesses the odor of sanctity from what reeks with impurity. For 
primitive thought the all-important distinction is between any- 
thing taboo and therefore untouchable, unusable, and anything 
which may be safely touched and used by all. The common char- 
acteristic of sacred persons and polluted persons is their mystic 
dangerousness. 

261 



262 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

To set forth all the ways in which men have gained authority 
by force or fraud, by their own talents or by the weakness or fool- 
ishness of others would be almost equivalent to writing a treatise 
on political science. In whatever way the leader emerges from 
the common herd the fact of his emergence is proof that he is in 
some degree a superior being. Among the Melanesians, if a man 
gains renown as a fighter, "it has not been his natural strength of 
arm, quickness of eye, or readiness of resource that has won suc- 
cess ; he has certainly got the mana of a spirit or of some deceased- 
warrior to empower him, conveyed in an amulet of stone round his 
neck, or a tuft of leaves in his belt, in a tooth hung upon a finger 
of his bow hand, or in the form of words with which he brings 
supernatural assistance to his side." 1 Similarly among the Maori 
the mana of a priest was evidenced by the truth of his predictions 
and the efficacy of his incantations, the mana of a doctor by the 
recovery of his patients, and the mana of a warrior by his unin- 
terrupted success in battle. 2 Thus the leader leads, not simply be- 
cause of his exceptional gifts, but also because he is thought to be 
endowed with occult power which his fellows lack or do not pos- 
sess to the same extent as he. Furthermore, the man who believes 
in himself, as we say, or who believes in his mana, as the savage 
would say, for that reason will be more likely to rise to the top 
than a man who feels less confidence in his possession of this 
wonder-working power. It is not difficult to understand how, with 
the growth of religion and social life, the ruler is regarded with 
increasing veneration, how he becomes ever more sacred, more 
taboo, until at length the divinity "that doth hedge a king" attains 
a complete development. And it may also be readily understood 
that many a ruler would consciously and of set purpose strive to 
widen the gulf between himself and his subjects, the better to 
secure their respect and command their obedience. The more 
sacred they hold him, the more caution will they exercise in their 
intercourse with him and the more inclined will they be to accept 
him as one who reigns, not by their consent, but by the "grace 
of God." 

Sacred persons are subjected to restrictions not imposed on 
ordinary people or to more severe restrictions than those observed 
by ordinary people ; from them a greater orthodoxy, so to speak, 
is demanded than from laymen. Being especially sensitive to ma- 
lign influences, they must be protected against all manner of evil, 
while their followers require special protection against their occult 
power. Danger for themselves and for others attaches to their 



SACRED PERSONS 263 

bodies (especially head, hair, nails, and blood), their names, their 
food, their clothing, their habitations, and their personal posses- 
sions. What they may do or may not do, their going and coming, 
their eating and drinking, and, indeed, all their activities are care- 
fully regulated. The taboos and other prohibitions investing them 
will be redoubled where the idea prevails that the sacred person, 
particularly the chief or the king, controls the order of nature and 
is held responsible, therefore, for the growth of the crops, the 
increase of animals hunted or domesticated, rainfall, and the gen- 
eral well-being of his people. 8 

Chieftainship in Australia is nonexistent; in New Guinea 
and the adjacent Melanesian Islands it is incipient; but throughout 
Polynesia there formerly existed a class of chiefs, with gradations 
of rank and sometimes with a supreme potentate who may be 
called a king. They were credited with the possession of occult 
power and were regarded with the utmost veneration. "Consider- 
ing the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands as but slightly re- 
moved from barbarism," writes the missionary Ellis, "we are 
almost surprised at the homage and respect they paid to their 
rulers. The difference between them and the common people was, 
in many respects, far greater than that which prevails between 
the rulers and the ruled in most civilized countries. Whether like 
the sovereigns of the Sandwich Islands, they were supposed to 
derive their origin by lineal descent from the gods, or not, their 
persons were regarded as scarcely less sacred than the personifica- 
tions of their deities." 4 

Captain Cook, as we have learned, first came upon the taboo 
system at Tongatabu, where the king of the Tonga Islands re- 
sided. Cook tells us that if the king happened to go into a house 
belonging to one of his subjects, it could never again be occu- 
pied by the owner; consequently, wherever he traveled, particu- 
lar houses were prepared for his reception. 5 According to William 
Mariner anyone who touched the body or the possessions of a 
superior chief tabooed himself, but this was not supposed to 
produce any ill effects unless he fed himself with his own hands 
before performing a ceremony for the removal of the taboo infec- 
tion. There was also a ceremony to remove the state of taboo that 
resulted from having accidentally eaten food which a superior 
chief had touched or from having eaten food in his presence. 6 

Today, after a century of missionary work among the natives, 
the chief still possesses for them an aura of sanctity. His head and 
back are the most sacred parts of his body. No one touches the 



264 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

head of a superior or passes close behind his back without an apol- 
ogy ; in the case of a great chief he would not pass there at all. No 
one may consume any food or drink left by a superior. 'The pen- 
alty for the violation of this rule is a sore throat, which can, how- 
ever, be cured by being stroked by the superior whose victuals have 
caused the trouble, or by one of still higher rank. A person suf- 
fering from a sore throat, which he suspects to have been caused 
in this way, will take a short cut to cure by resorting at once to 
the highest chief available. In earlier days the cure used to be 
effected by an application of the chief's foot to the sore spot, but 
the hand has been found equally efficacious and is now usually 
employed. Should anyone desire to help himself from the platter 
of a superior the unseen powers may be cheated by a little simple 
collusion. After the inferior has helped himself to the tabued 
viands, an immediate application of the superior's hand will ward 
off all unpleasant consequences." Eating and drinking in the 
presence of a chief of much higher rank than oneself are also 
taboo; the prohibition may be overcome, however, by retiring to 
a short distance and turning the back to the superior person. 7 

In Samoa chiefs of high rank always partook of their meals 
separately, since whatever they touched was supposed to acquire 
their sacredness. All food left by them at the close of a meal was 
taken to the bush and thrown away, "as it was believed that if a 
person not belonging to this sacred class ate of it, his stomach 
would immediately swell from disease, and death speedily ensue." 
Anything used by one of these chiefs was sprinkled with a par- 
ticular kind of coconut water to remove its sanctity and make it 
usable by others. Thus the spot where he had sat or slept received 
a sprinkling as soon as he had quitted it. Since anyone who 
touched the chief or any objects which he had touched was in im- 
minent danger of death, visitors who sat on either side of him, 
together with the attendants who waited on him, were likewise 
sprinkled. The ceremony was also observed on the occasion of 
deposing a chief and depriving him of his titles. Newly tattooed 
persons and those who had contaminated themselves by contact 
with a dead body were purified in the same manner. 8 

In Tahiti "everything in the least degree connected with the 
king or queen the cloth they wore, the houses in which they 
dwelt, the canoes in which they voyaged, the men by whom they 
were borne when they journeyed by land, became sacred and 
even the sounds in the language, comprising their names, could 
no longer be appropriated to ordinary significations. Hence, the 



SACRED PERSONS 265 

original names of most of the objects with which they were famil- 
iar, have from time to time undergone considerable alterations. 
The ground on which they even accidentally trod, became sacred ; 
and the dwelling under which they might enter, must for ever 
after be vacated by its proprietors, and could be appropriated only 
to the use of these sacred personages. No individual was allowed 
to touch the body of the king or queen ; and everyone who should 
stand over them, or pass the hand over their heads, would be liable 
to pay for the sacrilegious act with the forfeiture of his life. It 
was on account of this supposed sacredness of person that they 
could never enter any dwellings, excepting those that were spe- 
cifically dedicated to their use, and prohibited to all others; nor 
might they tread on the ground in any part of the island but their 
own hereditary districts." The sovereign and his consort always 
appeared in public on men's shoulders and, if they journeyed on 
land, they went in this manner from place to place. When it was 
necessary to change bearers their Majesties, to avoid touching 
the ground with their feet, vaulted upon the shoulders of the new 
bearers, "with much greater dispatch than the horses of a mail 
coach are changed, or an equestrian could alight and remount 
.... It is said that Pomare II once remarked, that he thought 
himself a greater man than King George, who only rode a horse, 
while he rode a man." 9 

In the Hawaiian Islands many regulations preserved the sanc- 
tity and consequently the privileged position of an important 
chief. A taboo staff warned commoners of his neighborhood, he 
wore the royal feather coat, he had the high seat in the double 
canoe, and he took the headship of the feast. To him belonged 
the choicest food, the richest clothing, and the most splendid orna- 
ments. Furthermore, he was able to feed and thus keep dependent 
upon himself a large body of retainers, all in duty bound to carry 
out his will. Thus the taboo system "constituted as powerful an 
instrument for the control of the labor and wealth of a commu- 
nity and the consequent enjoyment of personal ease and luxury as 
was ever put into the hands of an organized upper class. It pro- 
foundly influenced class distinctions, encouraged exclusiveness 
and the separation of the upper ranks of society from the lower." 10 

The commoner who did not prostrate himself when a chief 
came forth, who did not sit when his bathing water was carried 
past, who walked about while his name was being chanted, or 
who stood or sat at the entrance of his house was put to death. 11 
The same fate visited the luckless wight whose shadow fell upon 



266 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

a chief's house, his back, his robe, or anything that belonged to 
him. 12 

The sacredness of a Hawaiian king extended to everything 
he touched ; hence even his food had to be put into his mouth by 
another person. The predecessor of Kamehameha I (died 1819) 
"was taboo to such a degree that he was not allowed to be seen 
by day. He only showed himself in the night ; if any person had 
but accidentally seen him by daylight he was immediately put to 
death; a sacred law, the fulfillment of which nothing could pre- 
vent." 18 

Among the Maori the ariki, or chief of a tribe, was the de- 
scendant of the elder son of the elder son of each generation back 
to the original ancestor of the tribe. Because of his origin he 
seemed to be more than human ; he embodied all there was of the 
tribal sacredness ; and at any time he could communicate with the 
tribal gods. Perhaps no other people more fully recognized than 
did the Maori the "mysterious mana of primogeniture," the occult 
power that belonged to the chief by virtue of his divine lineage. 14 
An ariki made everything he touched so sacred that it might not 
be used by anyone else. An early missionary to New Zealand tells 
of a chief who threw down a precipice a very good mat because 
it was too heavy to carry ; when asked why he did not leave it sus- 
pended on a tree so that another traveler passing by might take 
it, he replied that his tapu would kill the wearer. A chief's blood 
partook of his sanctity, and anything on which it flowed, though 
it were but a single drop, became consecrated to him and his prop- 
erty. 15 "A party of natives came to see Te Heuheu, the great 
chief of Taupo, in a fine large new canoe. Te Heuheu got into it 
to go a short distance ; in doing so he struck a splinter into his 
foot, the blood flowed from the wound into the canoe, which at 
once tapued it to him. The owner immediately jumped out, and 
dragged it on shore, opposite the chief's house, and there left it." 
The chief's house was sacred; no one might eat in it except the 
chief, who had his meals by himself, generally on his veranda. 
He might not carry food ; to do so would destroy his sacred char- 
acter and cause his death, or a slave might eat the food and per- 
ish. The head of a chief was the most sacred part of his body. If 
he only touched it with his fingers, "he was obliged immediately 
to apply them to his nose, and snuff up the sanctity which they 
had acquired by the touch, and thus restore it to the part from 
whence it was taken." 16 For the same reason a chief could not 
blow on the common fire with his mouth, for his sacred breath 



SACRED PERSONS 267 

would communicate its sanctity to the flame and make it unfit 
for cooking food. 17 

By the Maori the atua, or spirits, were not supposed always to 
punish the person who had broken a taboo affecting a chief. More 
generally it was the chief himself who suffered from the disregard 
of his sacredness. "For this reason, chiefs and other sacred per- 
sons are always ready to resent any infractions of the law of their 
tapu, whether caused by the ignorance or by the design of others ; 
and many an unfortunate slave has been killed because he had been 
careless enough to carry his master's hair-comb, or some other 
part of his dress, within the limits of the family kitchen." 18 

The high estimate which the great chiefs placed on their per- 
sonal sacredness involved them in constant fighting with one an- 
other. Any disregard of the respect due them, whether intentional 
or not, was brooded over and sooner or later was avenged by some 
act of violence or insult to the offender. Bloodshed and even the 
extermination of a tribe might thus follow a breach of etiquette. 1 * 

In the Fiji Islands "the person of a high-rank king (for the 
title is often given to the head of a village) is sacred. In some 
instances these Fijian monarchs claim a divine origin, and, with 
a pride worthy of more classical examples, assert the rights of 
deity, and demand from their subjects respect for those claims. 
This is readily yielded; for the pride of descent which runs so 
high among the chiefs is equalled by the admiration in which 
their lofty lineage is held by the people, who are its sincere and 
servile worshippers. Republicanism is held in contempt by the 
Fijians, and even the United States have a king when American 
citizens speak of their president to a native of the islands. The 
king is supposed to impart a degree of sacredness to whatever he 
may wear or touch." 20 

Essentially similar ideas and customs are found in other parts 
of the world. Among the Malays, "not only is the king's person 
considered sacred, but the sanctity of his body is believed to com- 
municate itself to his regalia, and to slay those who break the 
royal taboos. Thus it is firmly believed that anyone who seri- 
ously offends the royal person, who touches (even for a moment), 
or who imitates (even with the king's permission) the chief ob- 
jects of the regalia, or who wrongfully makes use of any of the 
insignia or privileges of royalty, will be kena daulat, i.e. struck 
dead by a quasi-electric discharge of that Divine Power which 
the Malays suppose to reside in the king's person, and which is 
called Daulat or 'Royal Sanctity'." 21 



268 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Among the Thonga of South Africa the prestige of a chief is 
maintained, "not by a great display of riches and of power, but by 
the mystical idea that, as the body lives by nourishment taken 
through its head, so the life of the nation is sustained through its 
chief/' The chief is the nourishing earth; he is the bull without 
whom the cows cannot bring forth ; he is the husband, and the land 
without him is like a woman who has no spouse ; he is a forest in 
which his people hide themselves from danger. Conscious of this 
exalted position, a chief is careful not to mix too familiarly with his 
subjects. He eats alone in his hut or with only certain favorites; 
sometimes he will disappear for a time "just like a big caterpillar 
when it enters the ground and becomes a chrysalis," so the natives 
say; he does not permit his name to be lightly pronounced; he 
must be addressed by the royal salutation. In the old heathen 
days no one would shake hands with a chief because he was a 
dangerous being, his whole body was sacred. 22 The king of the 
Banyoro, an East African tribe, was regarded by his people as 
almost a deity. His person, his food, his clothing, his actions, 
and everything connected with him bore a sacred character. He 
passed his days engaged in ceremonies for the good of his faithful 
subjects, especially for the increase of the herds of cattle consti- 
tuting their wealth. 23 

The precautions so often taken by ordinary men in eating 
and drinking are naturally redoubled in the case of royal person- 
ages, whose food and drink might be polluted by the glance of 
commoners or, consumed by them, might become a deadly poison. 
Not only in Polynesia, but also widely in Africa, it is the practice 
for rulers to observe seclusion at their meals. The king of the 
Monbuttu in the Belgian Congo eats by himself and in privacy. 
No one may see the contents of his dish, and every particle of 
food which he leaves is carefully deposited in a special pit. What- 
ever he handles is sacred and may not be touched. A guest, even 
though of the highest rank, may not even light his pipe with em- 
bers from the king's fire that burns before the throne. 2 * 

When the supreme ruler of the Cazembe (Balonda) of An- 
gola is about to drink, all who are present prostrate themselves 
and avert their faces. 25 In Loango the king's sacredness is so 
great that anyone seeing him eat or drink is put to death. A few 
privileged courtiers may be present at the royal repast, but they 
must conceal their faces or else the king hides his head under a 
robe. 26 In Dahomey the king's person was sacred. His subjects 
affected to believe that he never ate or slept. It was criminal to 



SACRED PERSONS 269 

say the contrary. He always ate in secret, and any man who saw 
him doing so suffered death. When he drank in public, as he did 
on certain occasions, his subjects all turned aside their heads, and 
women held up curtains to screen the monarch from polluting 
glances. 27 

Many other taboos invest the dusky potentates of Africa. In 
Uganda, as in Tahiti, the king and queen were carried about in 
public on the shoulders of special bearers. These dignitaries be- 
longed to the Buffalo clan. When a bearer became tired, he shot 
the king on to the shoulders of a second man, without allowing 
the royal feet to touch the ground. The bark cloths upon which the 
king sat while thus being transported were carefully guarded, 
"lest they should be contaminated by the touch of people from 
other clans." 28 Anyone who touched the sacred person of a Ca- 
zembe ruler, without his permission, invariably died from the 
shock. Even when permission had been granted, the penalty could 
be evaded only by touching the royal hands in a special manner. 2 * 
For the king of the Bateke, a Lower Congo tribe, to look upon 
that river is to imperil his life. 80 The king of Loango may not 
look on the sea and often, also, on any river. Accordingly, he is 
obliged to make many long detours when he goes traveling. 31 The 
king of Dahomey was not allowed to behold the sea. 82 

Among the Kilba, a tribe of Northern Nigeria, the divine 
chief never visited the village where he had formerly resided lest 
disaster fall on the inhabitants. He might not pick up anything 
from the ground lest his sacredness "the dynamism of his per- 
son" should blast the crops. If he shook his fist in a man's face 
that man would go mad. Except for the purpose of swearing an 
oath, no one might touch the mat on which he sat. He ate and 
drank in private, attended by a single official who sat with head 
averted while the meal continued. His food was cooked by an 
old woman past the age of menstruation. 83 

Some of the Nigerian kings are never allowed outside their 
own premises. This rule is occasionally much more rigid, "the 
incarcerated puppets being visible only to their families and per- 
sonal attendants, and of course to the priests, while in certain 
cases Benin city for example the outside public and strangers 
are permitted to see their feet alone, which are pushed out from 
behind a screen/' 34 

That ideas of the sacredness of rulers have served as a prop 
of despotism needs no labored argumentation. As William Mari- 
ner declared of the Tonga Islanders, the respect that was uni- 



270 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

versally paid to chiefs formed "the stable basis of their govern- 
ment." Without that respect, nourished though it was upon 
ideas of taboo, how much more difficult must have been the prob- 
lem of governing a wild and turbulent people. Yet ideas of this 
sort, when carried to their logical conclusion, provide a natural 
check upon tyranny. The almighty divine king is hedged about 
with so many taboos that he loses all freedom of action and ends, 
not infrequently, by becoming a helpless puppet, a roi faineant, 
who reigns but does not rule, while the real power lies in the hands 
of his mayor of the palace or with some priestly coterie. 

Magicians and priests, those specialists in the mysterious and 
the uncanny, acquire by initiation or a novitiate their own store 
of occult power; they, too, are often looked upon as sacred per- 
sons and hence are affected by all the conditions pertaining to the 
notion of sacredness. Taboos and other negative regulations pro- 
tect them from contamination by intercourse with what is unclean 
and likewise safeguard the laity against dangerous contact with 
their occult power. 

Among the Orokaiva, a Papuan tribe, there has developed in 
quite recent years a taro cult. This is a placation of ancestral 
spirits believed to control the growth of the taro plant, the staple 
food of the natives. The taro "experts," who have charge of the 
cult, must undergo a kind of probation and observe certain ta- 
boos, particularly a taboo against washing themselves. Running 
water, it seems, will not only cleanse away impurity but will also 
carry off and dissipate the mana of the expert, thus rendering 
his operations futile. Novices in training are allowed, however, 
to wash themselves in still, swampy water. 35 In the D'Entre- 
casteaux Islands, off southeastern New Guinea, nearly every ham- 
let has its professional "singer," who knows the proper incanta- 
tion to make the yams grow. At the time of planting and for six 
months thereafter he and his wife must sleep apart. Not until 
the seventh month comes round and the yams have ripened is the 
restriction removed; if he failed to observe it the yams would be 
sure to wither. Certain prized foods are also tabooed to the singer 
during this period. 80 

In Efate, one of the New Hebrides, if a sacred man (a magi- 
cian and rain maker) passed through a village where a death had 
occurred or even by a house where a child had been born, he would 
immediately purify himself. One method of doing so was to break 
off a forked branch from a particular plant and, after the neces- 
sary incantation, to draw the branch down his body and limbs, 



SACRED PERSONS 271 

thus "sweeping away the defilement." The sacred man might also 
preserve his sacredness unimpaired if he was sprinkled with the 
milk of a coconut. 87 

In Samoa the high priest and prophet, Tupai, "was greatly 
dreaded. His very look was poison. If he looked at a cocoanut 
tree it died, and if he glanced at a breadfruit tree it also withered 
away." 38 Maori priests, as well as Maori chiefs, were highly dan- 
gerous to commoners. We are told that once when an epidemic 
broke out and two hundred warriors perished, the misfortune 
was explained by the fact that someone had taken palm leaves 
from the sleeping mat of a priest engaged in an important reli- 
gious ceremony. 39 In Yap, one of the Carolines, the belief in 
magic is very prevalent, and magicians are correspondingly nu- 
merous and influential. They observe certain taboos. Thus, the 
magician who pronounces incantations over the people must ab- 
stain from eating fish for three, five, or nine days, according to 
the importance of the incantation. Sometimes he is not allowed 
to go near his wife. He may not eat food cooked by a woman or 
a child. However, an old woman, past the age of childbearing, is 
free to cultivate his garden for him and to take his produce to his 
house. The war magician must never eat anything that grows in 
a hostile district. This taboo is still maintained, although wars 
have long been things of the past. 40 

Among the Naga tribes the khullakpa, or priest-chief, acts 
in a representative capacity for his village, whenever a rite is to 
be performed which requires the whole force of the community 
behind it, a force which operates through him. Many elaborate 
taboos invest him, in order to prevent any accident which might 
impair the efficacy of his sacred office. He must submit to various 
food restrictions, must content himself with only one wife, and 
must even separate himself from her on the eve of a ceremony. 
In one group he is not allowed to eat in a strange village, nor, 
whatever the provocation, to utter a word of abuse. The violation 
of any one of these taboos is thought to bring down misfortune 
on the entire village. The village rites "seem in many cases to be 
inspired by the belief that man, the man, the khullakpa, when 
fortified by the whole strength and will of the village, is able to 
control and constrain forces which are beyond his control if un- 
aided. He relies on cooperative magic." 41 

Among the Toda of the Nilgiri Hills the sacred milkman 
(palol), who has charge of the sacred dairy, submits to many 
burdensome restrictions during his priesthood, which may extend 



272 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

over a long period of years. He must live in the dairy, never 
visiting his home. He must be celibate; if married, he must leave 
his wife. He must never cut his hair or pare his nails. He must 
never cross a river by a bridge but must use a ford, and only cer- 
tain fords. He may not attend the funeral of a fellow clansman 
unless he resigns office. An ordinary man may approach him on 
two days of the week only; on other days any conversation with 
him must be carried on from a considerable distance. No ordinary 
man is allowed to touch his hallowed body, for if that happened 
he would be defiled and hence incapable of holding office. The 
eating and drinking of this holy personage are also subject to 
certain regulations, though the only food forbidden to him is 
chillies. The palol loses all sanctity upon giving up his position, 
nor does he derive any marked social importance from having 
held it. 42 In a village of the Kota (neighbors of the Toda) the 
priest is carefully kept from contaminating contacts. He does 
not eat from vessels used by laymen ; when he visits a fellow vil- 
lager he must occupy a certain reserved part of the house ; and he 
may no more join in the ordinary social dances "than a bishop 
may publicly demonstrate the tango." Contact with women is 
in the highest degree dangerous to him. He has only one wife, 
therefore, and avoids sexual intercourse with all other women. 
The priest's wife also bears a sacred character and she in turn, 
must have no relations with any man except her husband. The 
Kota practice fraternal polyandry, but in this case the preserva- 
tion of a sacrosanct priesthood is regarded as more important 
than of enforcement of the rights of brothers. 43 

The principal magician holds a high position among the Nandi 
of Kenya. He tells the people when to plant their crops, obtains 
rain in time of drought, and makes women and cattle fruitful. 
No war party can be successful unless he has sanctioned it in ad- 
vance. His person is regarded as sacred. No one may approach 
him with weapons in the hand or speak in his presence unless 
first addressed. It is most important that no one should touch 
his head, for doing so might result in the loss of his magical 
powers. 44 Among the Masai the head chief and magician lives 
on milk, honey, and goat livers ; if he ate any other food he could 
no longer divine the future and devise potent charms. 45 

The Ga of the Gold Coast impose numerous taboos upon a 
priest. He must not see a dead body, and when about to die he must 
be taken from the place of his god. He must refrain from sexual 
intercourse on certain days of the week and before performing 



SACRED PERSONS 273 

certain ceremonies. He must not eat fermented food. He must 
not be spoken to while eating. He must not eat on any day until 
the sun has shone. Observance of this prohibition during the 
rainy season might seem to result in his starvation, but "some kind 
friend always goes outside, gazes at the streaming clouds, and shouts 
cheerily that the sun is shining." A priest who deliberately breaks 
his taboo is put to death. But if he does so by accident and real- 
izes his mistake in time, he makes an offering of rum, accompanied 
by due apologies to the god, and escapes punishment. 46 

In West Africa the heads of the secret societies, whether or 
not representing the guardian gods of the societies, are generally 
considered sacred persons. They are hedged about by ceremony 
and kept sacrosanct by a circle of taboos that even the leading 
officials dare not pass. In some cases their seclusion is quite real. 
A few of them are never seen at all. The head of the Egbo society 
is indicated only by a pillar, carved with phallic signs and a tor- 
toise. The head of the Oro society is indicated only by a mask, 
sometimes carried on the shoulders of a deputy. The head of the 
Ayaka society allows only an arm to be seen, and that merely 
when he stretches it round the corner of his hut to receive the gifts 
of the faithful. "The Grand Tasso goes into a privacy hardly 
ever broken, living and dying alone. When he realizes that the 
hand of death is upon him he goes into the bush, builds there a 
palm-frond thatch, and lying within its shade, awaits calmly his 
dissolution. After a period of time the council meets for the elec- 
tion of his successor, whose first duty must be the finding of that 
lonely, ant-cleaned skeleton to add its skull to the others that form 
the official mitre. The Mama Koome of Bundu is a solitary old 
woman who allows no one to visit her for any longer time than 
that occupied by a consultation, who denies herself the solace of 
relative and friend when ill, and who may not be buried by any 
other than the Grand Tasso, whose duty and privilege it is." Even 
when the head of a society is merely a promoted member of the 
council, the secret of his identity may be known only to a few 
members. 47 

Perpetual celibacy is sometimes required of priests and priest- 
esses. 48 Priestesses among the Ewe of the Slave Coast are for- 
bidden to marry, as being already spouses of a god, and the same 
rule prevails among the Twi of the Gold Coast. But they are not 
debarred from sexual intercourse with priests. 49 Among the Ba- 
chama of Northern Nigeria the medium of the god held most in 
honor is a woman. She conveys to the god the wishes of the people 



274 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

and reports his responses. The woman is regarded as being mar- 
ried to the god, who is believed to leave his shrine in the bush 
every evening and come to her house in the town. 50 

Some of the aborigines of the New World imposed celibacy 
upon sacred men and women. In Patagonia the male "wizards" 
had to be celibates. 61 In Mexico the women who served in the 
temples might not engage in sexual intercourse. Those who were 
known to have broken their vows suffered death. If their sin re- 
mained secret, they tried to appease the anger of the gods by 
fasting and austerity of life, fearing lest as punishment their 
flesh would rot. 62 The Huichol, an Indian tribe of Mexico, be- 
lieve that a man who wishes to become a shaman must be faithful 
to his wife for five years and that, if he violates this rule, he will 
be taken ill and lose the power of curing. 53 

The holy men of Zuni do not abstain from marriage, for celi- 
bacy as a way of life does not commend itself to the community. 
They are expected to observe, however, long periods of continence 
in connection with the performance of their elaborate ceremonies. 
The various priesthoods also have their "retreats," usually lasting 
for four or six days, when the members sleep and eat together in 
some house where their sacred possessions are kept and hold fre- 
quent sessions for song, prayer, and meditation, especially at 
night. Those who approach the gods with a request ought to 
avoid all disturbing activities, to withdraw from the world, and 
to concentrate their thoughts upon securing from the supernatural 
powers the desired blessings. 64 In Isleta continence is required for 
four days before engaging in a religious ceremony. A daily emetic 
is taken by the participants. Abstinence of this sort may be prac- 
ticed, not only by the priests, but also by laymen who want "to 
help," that is, to increase the efficacy of the ceremonial. Were 
one to break the taboo of sexual intercourse one might turn into 
a rock or a log or an animal. When people go into a "retreat" 
they must totally abstain from food and drink for the usual four 
days. It is also necessary for them to observe the prohibition of 
killing anything, not "even a spider or a fly." 55 A Blackfoot priest 
had to be not only virtuous but also "serious and clean-minded." 66 

Magicians and priests are thus subject to essentially the same 
taboos as those which invest chiefs and kings. They are all more 
or less sacred beings. Hence there may be no clear differentiation 
between the royal and the sacerdotal offices: the chief or king 
sometimes has magical or priestly functions, and the magician or 
priest sometimes assumes political authority. King-priests and 



SACRED PERSONS 275 

priest-kings are still found in primitive society, while the Pharaohs 
of ancient Egypt, the Inca rulers of Peru, and the Mikados of 
Japan illustrate the survival into historic times and among rela- 
tively civilized peoples of the combination in a single man of civil 
ruler and vicar of God on earth. 

Laymen, as well as civil and spiritual rulers, may be made sac- 
rosanct. Among the Wiradjuri of New South Wales messengers 
"are regarded as sacred, and may safely travel anywhere, so long 
as they possess the proper sign or emblem of their office." Mes- 
sengers enjoyed the same immunity, even among hostile tribes, 
elsewhere in New South Wales and Victoria. 57 Among the Samo- 
ans heralds were held inviolate in time of war and were never 
molested. 58 The tribes of Nukuhiva, one of the Marquesas Islands, 
had little intercourse because of their mutual hostility. It was 
possible, however, for a man who had established friendly rela- 
tions with someone in another tribe to venture with impunity into 
its country, as his person was then taboo. 59 

Members of male secret societies possess a certain measure of 
sanctity, marking them off from women, children, and uninitiated 
men and increasing with their passage from the lower to the higher 
degrees. Stringent taboos invest their persons and preserve them 
from contact with outsiders during the performance of the secret 
rites. The initiates, wearing masks and special costumes, often 
personate animals and present songs, dances, and tableaux vivants 
which form a dramatization of the native myths and legends. 
Ancestor worship and the cult of the dead sometimes loom large 
in the rituals of the societies; the chief masquerader may be a 
personification of the spirits of the dead ; and the performers may 
wear skull-masks and represent ancestral individuals whose mem- 
ory is to be recalled. Ceremonies for the production of rain, the 
ripening of the crops, the multiplication of food animals, and the 
healing of the sick are associated with many secret societies. 60 

Chiefs, kings, magicians, and priests often undergo purifica- 
tion before assuming office, and further purification is sometimes 
required of them from time to time during the performance of 
their duties. They may also receive a formal initiation or conse- 
cration, something always necessary for membership in secret so- 
cieties. The idea back of initiatory or consecrative rites seems to 
be that freedom from possible pollution (as secured by a purifica- 
tory ceremony) does not suffice to remove the mystic dangerous- 
ness involved in contact with anything sacred ; it is further neces- 
sary that those who are to perform sacred acts should themselves 



276 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

acquire sanctity. The incompatibility between things sacred and 
things polluted exists as well, though to a less degree, between 
things sacred and things common, profane, or noa, to use the 
Polynesian designation. 



NOTES TO CHAPTER VII 

1 R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians (Oxford, 1891), p. 120. 

2 Old New Zealand, by a Pakeka Maori (London, 1884), pp. 175 ff. 

8 See Sir J. G. Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of the Soul (London, 1911) 
(The Golden Bough, 3d ed., Part II), pp. 1-17, 131-37; idem, Psyche's Task 
(2d ed., London, 1913), pp. 6-19. 

* William Ellis, Polynesian Researches (2d ed., London, 1831), p. 101. 

5 James Cook and James King, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London, 
1784), I, 410. 

6 John Martin, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands .... from 
the Extensive Communications of Mr. William Mariner (3d ed., Edinburgh, 
1827), II, 186 ff. 

7 E. E. V. Collocott, "The Supernatural in Tonga," American Anthropolo- 
gist (n.s., 1921), XXIII, 421 f. 

J. B. Stair, Old Samoa (London, 1897), pp. 121 f., 127 f. Cf. George 
Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians (London, 1910), p. 231. 

9 Ellis, op. cit. (2d ed.), Ill, 101 ff. According to another early account, any 
land touched by the feet of Tahitian rulers became their property (Captain James 
Wilson, A Missionary Voyage to the Southern Pacific Ocean [London, 1799], 
p. 329). The contact of persons in a state of taboo with the ground is often 
held to involve a dissipation of their occult power. The ground acts as a good 
conductor of "spiritual electricity." See Sir J. G. Frazer, Adonis t Attis, Osiris 
(London, 1913), (The Golden Bough, 3d ed., Part VII), I, 1-18. Mr. Migeod 
cites instances of this belief (chiefly from Africa) in connection with boys at 
initiation into manhood, brides, initiates into secret societies, chiefs, dancers, 
and sacred inanimate objects. See F. W. H. Migeod, "Mystical and Ceremonial 
Avoidance of Contact with Inanimate Objects," Folk-Lore, XXXII (1921), 
24S-61. 

10 Martha W. Beckwith, "The Hawaiian Romance of Laieikawai," Thirty- 
third Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, p. 310. 

11 Idem., "Kepelino's Traditions of Hawaii," Bernice P. Bishop Museum 
Bulletin, No. 95, pp. 112, 136. 

12 David Malo, Hawaiian Antiquities (Honolulu, 1903), p. 83. Cf. Jules 
Remy, Ka Mooolelo Hawaii, Histoire de I'Archipel Havaiien (Paris and Leipzig, 
1862), pp. 159, 161. 

18 Otto von Kotzebue, A Voyage of Discovery into the South Sea and 
Beering's Straits (London, 1821), III, 247. 

14 W. E. Gudgeon, in Journal of the Polynesian Society, X.IV (1905), 130; 
XV (1906), 38. 

15 When a chief was being tattooed a bloody operation the inhabitants of 
his village lived under a temporary taboo and might not feed themselves with 
their hands (H. L. Roth, "Maori Tatu and Moko," Journal of the Anthropo- 
logical Institute, XXXI [1901], 44). The Naga of eastern Assam, who regard 



SACRED PERSONS 277 

tattooing as a sacred operation, taboo the house where it is being done, in order 
to keep out strangers. When women are tattooed, not even men or boys of their 
own family are allowed to remain in the house (W. H. Furness, ibid., XXXII 
[1902], 455). 

16 In Fiji the chiefs took great pride in their hair and required it to be most 
carefully cut and arranged. Each chief maintained a number of barbers, who, 
being in a permanent state of taboo, might not touch food and had to be fed by 
attendants (J. E. Erskine, Journal of a Cruise among the Islands of the Western 
Pacific [London, 1853], p. 254). 

"Richard Taylor, Te Ika A Mam (2d ed., London, 1870), pp. 164 f. A 
Maori girl once borrowed a chiefs robe as a sleeping garment. During the night 
the insects on it annoyed her so much that, according to the native practice, she 
caught and ate them. The next day her infant child became ill, the consequence, 
as she supposed, of her having eaten the sacred insects. The spirits were angry 
with her and punished her by afflicting the child. When it grew worse, she 
strangled it (G. F. Angas, Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zea- 
land [London, 1847], II, 143). On one occasion all the inhabitants of a village 
became taboo from eating the wild cabbage which had grown on a site formerly 
occupied by a chiefs dwelling (Edward Tregear, The Maori Race [Wanganui, 
New Zealand], 1904, p. 197). The story is told of a chief of high rank who had 
swallowed a codfish bone. It stuck in his throat and threatened to suffocate 
him. None of the bystanders dared to offer any help, for a man who touched 
the chiefs head would have forfeited his life. A missionary finally succeeded in 
extracting the bone. When the chief had sufficiently recovered to be able to 
speak, he gave orders to take from the missionary the instruments with which 
the operation had been performed, "as a payment for having drawn blood from 
him and for touching his head when he was sacred" (William Yate, An Account 
of New Zealand [2d ed., London, 1835], p. 104, note). 

18 Edward Shortland, Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders 
(2d ed., London, 1856), pp. 115f. According to another early account, to men- 
tion food in connection with anything "sacred" or tapu, such as the head or the 
hair of a chief, was "considered as an insult, and revenged as such" (G. F. Angas, 
Polynesia, London [1866], p. 149). 

19 W. E. Gudgeon, in Journal of the Polynesian Society, XIV (1905), 65. 

20 Thomas Williams, Fiji and the Fijians (3d ed., London, 1870), p. 19. As 
this missionary authority points out, the influence of the chiefs was also "greatly 
increased by that peculiar institution found so generally among the Polynesian 
tribes the tabu" (p. 20). 

21 W. W. Skeat, Malay Magic (London, 1900), pp. 23 f. In Malacca the 
regalia include a book of genealogy, a code of laws, a vest, and a few weapons ; 
in Perak they are drums, pipes, flutes, a betel box, a sword, a scepter, and an 
umbrella. In Selangor the regalia consist of the royal instruments of music, 
together with a betel box, a tobacco box, a spittoon, an umbrella, and several 
swords and tufted lances. On state occasions these are carried in procession 
(pp. 24 ff.). 

22 H. A. Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed., London, 1927), 
I, 381 ff. 

28 John Roscoe, The Bakitara or Banyoro (Cambridge, 1923), p. 90. 

24 Georg Schweinfurth, The Heart of Africa (3d ed., London, 1878), II, 45. 

25 F. T. Valdez, Six Years of a Traveller's Life in Western Africa (London, 
1861), II, 256. 

26 Adolf Bastian, Die deutsche Expedition an der Loango-Kiiste (Jena, 
1874-1875), I, 262 f. An instance is recorded of a king's son who accidentally 



278 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

saw his father drinking palm wine. He was executed on the spot (W. Winwood 
Reade, Savage Africa [London, 1863], p. 286). 

27 A. B. Ellis, The Ewe-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa 
(London, 1890), p. 162. Cf. Sir R. F. Burton, A Mission to Gelele, King of 
Dahonte (London, 1864), I, 244 f. 

28 John Roscoe, The Baganda (London, 1911), p. 155. 
20 Valdez, op. cit. f II, 251 f. 

80 A. Cureau, Les sodetes primitives de I'Afrique equatoriale (Paris, 1912), 
p. 379. 

81 Bastian, op. cit. f I, 263 ff. An old writer pointed out that the heir to the 
Loango throne inherits also various abstinences and obligatory ceremonies and 
that these increase as he grows older until, when he ascends the throne, he is 
well-nigh "lost in the ocean" of them (O. Dapper, Description de I'Afrique 
[Amsterdam, 1686], p. 336). 

82 BeVaud, in Bulletin de la Socitte de Gtographie (5th series, 1866), XII, 
377. 

88 C. K. Meek, Tribal Studies in Northern Nigeria (London, 1931), I, 185 f. 
For the taboos observed by the divine chief among the Kam, another tribe of 
Northern Nigeria, see ibid., II, 539 f. 

84 A. G. Leonard, The Lower Niger and Its Tribes (London, 1906), 
pp. 371 f. 

8 F. E. Williams, Orokaiva Magic (Oxford, 1928), pp. 9f., 32 f. 

86 D. Jenness and A. Ballantyne, The Northern D'Entrecasteaux (Oxford, 
1920), pp. 123 f. 

87 Duff Macdonald, Oceania (Melbourne and London, 1889), p. 181. 

88 George Turner, Samoa (London, 1884), ,p. 23. 

89 Tregear, The Maori Race, p. 200. 

4 S. Walleser, in Anthropos, VIII (1913), 627, 1061. 
41 T. C. Hodson, The Naga Tribes of Manipur (London, 1911), pp. 102, 
141 f. 

W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas (London, 1906), pp. 98 ff. 

48 D. C. Mandelbaum, "Polyandry in Kota Society," American Anthro- 
pologist (n.s., 1938), XL, 577. 

44 A. C. Hollis, The Nandi (Oxford, 1906), pp. 49 f. 
M. Merker, Die Masai (Berlin, 1904), p. 21. 

46 M. J. Field, Religion and Medicine of the Ga People (Oxford, 1937), 
pp. 8, 119. 

47 F. W. Butt-Thompson, West African Secret Societies (London, 1929), 
pp. 74 ff. 

48 See Gunnar Landtman (The Origin or Priesthood [Ekenaes, Finland, 
1905], pp. 156 ff.), who also gives instances of extraordinary sexual liberties 
accorded to priests and priestesses. 

4 A. B. Ellis, The Ewe-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa 
(London, 1890), p. 142; idem, The Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast of 
West Africa (London, 1887), p. 121. 

50 C. K. Meek, "A Religious Festival in Northern Nigeria," Africa, III 
(1930), 327 f. 

61 Thomas Falconer, A Description of Patagonia (Hereford, 1774), p. 117. 

62 F. S. Clavigero, The History of Mexico (2d ed., London, 1807), I, 276. 



SACRED PERSONS 279 

s Carl Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico (New York, 1903), II, 236. 
54 Ruth L. Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," Forty-seventh 
Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 504 f . 

65 Mrs. Elsie C. Parsons, ibid., p. 286. 

66 G. B. Grinnell, Blackfoot Lodge Tales, New York, 1892, p. 268. 

57 A. W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-East Australia (London, 
1904), p. 687; cf. 689 f. 

68 Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians, p. 281. 

59 Herman Melville, Typee (new ed., Boston, 1892), p. 204. 

60 See H. Webster, Primitive Secret Societies (2d ed., New York, 1932), 
pp. 160-90. See also Camilla H. Wedgwood, "The Nature and Functions of 
Secret Societies," Oceania, I (1930-1931), 129-45. 



CHAPTER VIII 
SACRED THINGS 



SINCE sanctity is both contagious and infectious, places associated' 
with a sacred person, or with his ghost, or with a spiritual being, 
or with some extraordinary and therefore mysterious occurrence 
may become loca religiosa, as the Romans called them, and be in- 
vested with taboos. Caves, grottoes, and clefts in the rocks; 
springs, rivers, and lakes ; hills and mountain tops ; burial grounds 
and sepulchers have been such sanctuaries. With these may be 
included all sacred precincts and temples where the symbols and 
images of spiritual beings are preserved and where magical or 
religious ceremonies are performed. 

In Australia the site of the initiation rites is strictly tabooed 
to women and uninitiated boys. The prohibition may be extended 
to an initiate of a lower degree. Among the natives of South 
Australia a circumcised youth might not go where the additional 
rite of subincision had been performed. The sanctity of a place 
of initiation is further secured by the general belief that the ma- 
gicians have scattered over the ground magical articles which 
would be fatal to a trespasser who trod on them. 1 The Yir- 
Yorunt of Cape York Peninsula possess at least twenty-five sacred 
grounds. Of these, ten are "little sacred grounds," and no taboos 
or special rites are associated with them. But the remaining fif- 
teen are "big sacred grounds/' tabooed to women and children 
and to all men not properly "introduced" to them. The stones on 
these sites are accounted dangerous in themselves. Some of the 
myths reciting the origin of the holy places are secret. The clans 
in whose territory they are found keep them up, enforce the taboos 
relating to them, and, with the help of all qualified tribesmen, 
"introduce" the uninitiated to them. 2 

Each local group of the Mountain Arapesh, a tribe of British 
New Guinea, has a supernatural guardian, a marsalai. Under the 
guise of a monstrous two-headed snake or lizard, it lives in quick- 
sands, bogs, or deep water holes and on sharp declivities, places 
especially inhospitable to man, "where the hunter's foot is likely 

280 



SACRED THINGS 281 

to slip and the quarry disappear mysteriously." The spirits of 
the dead gather near the places inhabited by marsalai and aid them 
in protecting the land of the community from intrusion by stran- 
gers. A menstruating or pregnant woman who approaches such 
a place, or, in the case of a pregnant woman, eats food which 
comes from it, risks the vengeance of the marsalai. There is dan- 
ger that the creature may enter her body under the form of a 
snake and copulate with her until she dies. Perhaps her child 
may be so injured that it will be born prematurely or a monster. 
A marsalai is also hostile to people who have recently had sexual 
relations. 8 

In Kiriwina, one of the Trobriand Islands, clumps of old 
primeval forest still remaining near the villages of the natives are 
considered sacred. "If a person entered into one without uttering 
the proper incantations he would be struck dead According to [the] 
tabu placed on it by their ancestors ; only old men went there to 
hatch their plots in secret when they wished to kill anyone by sor- 
cery or to make war." 4 

In New Britain the Dukduk secret society had a piece of land, 
called the tareu, in which the lodge of the society was placed. 
"No woman nor any uninitiated man or boy dared go near this 
sacred enclosure/ >B 

In the Solomon Islands a place associated with a tindalo, or 
ghost of power, is sacred. The man who has become a tindalo may 
be buried there or his relics may be kept there. Should a tree 
growing in the enclosure fall across a path, no one would step 
over the tree ; no one would pass by when the sun was so low as to 
cast his shadow into the enclosure, for the ghost would draw his 
shadow from him. In the Banks Islands and the New Hebrides 
the sacred places are associated, not with ghosts, but with spirits 
that never were embodied in men. 6 

The mausoleum of a Marquesan chief seems never to have 
been violated by a rash intruder. A roll of white tapa, swinging 
from a pole set up in the enclosure, warned passers-by of the "in- 
scrutable taboo." 7 The Marquesans also had sacred groves where 
religious rites were held and where the priests harangued their 
devotees. Such a place "was defended from profanation by the 
strictest edicts of the all-prevailing 'taboo/ which condemned to 
instant death the sacrilegious female who should enter or touch 
its -sacred precincts, or even so much as press with her feet the 
ground made holy by the shadows that it cast/' 8 By the Christian- 
ized natives of the Tonga Islands the sanctity formerly possessed 



282 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

by their temples has now been transferred to their church build- 
ings. These are considered so sacred that rain water falling on 
them is not stored or used. A child is said to have died "through 
drinking water which had dripped from a church roof into an 
empty tin placed under the eaves." 9 Among the Maori "a slave or 
other person not sacred would not enter a 'wahi tapu/ or sacred 
place, without having first stripped off his clothes ; for the clothes, 
having become sacred the instant they entered the precincts of the 
'wahi tapu/ would ever after be useless to him in the ordinary 
business of his life." 10 

The spirits presiding over the clans of Yap Island are wor- 
shiped in sacred groves. No wood may be cut in them, for the 
spirit whose sanctity is thus profaned would punish the trespasser 
severely. One of the groves is so holy that, were it cut down, all 
Yap would be destroyed by a typhoon. 11 

The men's house (uma-luli) among the natives of Timor al- 
most invariably stands in a cleared space surrounded by a thick 
fence. "Within this fence no twig or branch may be broken or 
cut, no blade of grass plucked, and no stone overturned under the 
fear of the vengeance of the luli; no tobacco is permitted to be 
taken within the sacred boundaries, and no horse or buffalo may 
stray within it." 12 Similar regulations protect other places which 
have been made taboo (pomali) against intrusion: in a sacred 
grove no tree may be felled; in a sacred stream no one may go 
fishing or bathing; a sacred tract of land may not be cultivated. 
The places thus reserved from secular use are so numerous that 
they oppose a real obstacle to the economic development of the 
country. 18 

Every Ba-ila community has a grove consecrated to a demigod. 
No one meddles with the trees and with the brushwood which 
springs up around them, so that in time an impenetrable thicket 
is formed. Only the "priest" ever enters it and he but once a year, 
when he has to cut his way in. 14 In Yabe (on the Loango coast) 
a certain deity's hut is so sacred that anyone entering it, except 
for religious purposes, becomes the slave of the officiating priest. 15 
On the Slave Coast the temples of the chief gods are usually 
placed in groves. From the tops of the trees long streamers flutter 
in the wind and testify to the sanctity of the locality. 16 Europeans 
are not allowed to enter a temple in Togoland; if a clothed for- 
eigner did so, all the people would die overnight. 17 

In Nigeria nearly every Ibo town has a sacred tree in which 
the souls of the departed are supposed to dwell while awaiting 



SACRED THINGS 283 

reincarnation. "So long as the least fragment of the tree lasts, 
the faithful shades cling to its ancient trunk or branches or even 
retire into the furthermost rootlets." When such a tree falls at 
last and decays, the family to which it belonged marks the spot 
where it formerly stood. No farm may be made on that spot. 
Were the ground cultivated, the ghosts would be unable to break 
through the earth to return to the light of day; they would be 
imprisoned there forever. 18 

Primitive peoples rely, as a rule, upon the principle of retali- 
ation "life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth" when a homi- 
cide has been committed or a bodily injury inflicted by one person 
upon another. The satisfaction of vengeful feelings often results 
in blood- feuds between two groups, and their petty warfare may 
rage for years, unless sooner ended by payment of a blood-fine. 
Moreover, there is the failure to distinguish between an intentional 
and an unintentional wrong, the failure, in short, to recognize 
any extenuating circumstances. Justice thus becomes identified 
with revenge. The most important modifier of the rule of vio- 
lence among savage and barbarous peoples has been the recogni- 
tion of the right of sanctuary, giving time for angry passions to 
cool, permitting an investigation of the charges against an al- 
leged offender, and making it possible to introduce the grand dis- 
tinction between design and accident. Recognition of the right 
seems to find a fundamental explanation in the fear of committing 
any act which would disturb the peace of a sanctuary ; to shed the 
blood of a fugitive in it would be to encroach upon its holiness. 19 

Among the Arunta of Central Australia the spot where sacred 
objects (churinga) are stored serves as a rudimentary asylum. 
Plants growing there are never touched; animals running there 
are never caught or killed ; and a man who fled there would not 
be interfered with so long as he remained in its immediate neigh- 
borhood. 20 Among the Motu and Koita tribes near Port Moresby, 
British New Guinea, the men's house (dtibu) offers safety to a 
person fleeing from an enemy. "Anyone smiting another inside 
the dubu would have his arms and legs shrivelled up, and he could 
do nothing but wish to die." 21 Such is the sacredness of the Elema 
men's house (eravo) that any impropriety there would be visited 
with supernatural punishment. It is "no place for quarrelling; 
not even for heavy tread on the floor-planks ; and least of all for 
horseplay." 22 The men's house in San Cristoval, one of the Solo- 
mon Islands, serves as a sanctuary ; bloodshed rarely occurs in it. 28 

In Samoa the tombs of chiefs, being considered sacred and 



284 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

inviolable, were places of refuge. 24 In the Tonga Islands it was 
thought to be highly sacrilegious to quarrel or fight within any 
place which had been dedicated to a god or made sacred by the 
burial there of a great chief. A like taboo was frequently placed 
on a canoe, when a long voyage had to be made. 26 There were 
several "cities of refuge" on the island of Hawaii: manslayers, 
thieves, and those who had broken taboos were safe if they 
reached the sanctuary, the gates of which were always open. After 
a short stay there they might return home unharmed, for the pro- 
tection of Keave, the tutelary deity of the sanctuary, was sup- 
posed still to abide with them. 26 The Maori also had sanctuaries 
or "cities of refuge." 27 

The Ovambo of southwest Africa abandon the village of a 
great chief after his death, but members of a certain family remain 
there to prevent it from falling into utter decay. A condemned 
criminal who escapes to such a deserted village is safe, at least for 
a time; not even the chief himself would venture to pursue a 
fugitive into the sacred place. 28 Among the Barotse and related 
tribes of the Zambesi the miscreant who throws himself upon the 
king's drums huge wooden cylinders with skins stretched across 
their top ends claims sanctuary and escapes punishment. 29 Trees 
and rivers are Nandi sanctuaries, and a man who takes refuge in 
them may not be killed. He exchanges his garment with his 
enemy, thus becoming a prisoner or slave, and remains as such 
until ransomed. To prevent his escape, the captor shaves the pris- 
oner's hair and keeps it as 'a means of magical control over him. 80 
In the Calabar district of West Africa there is a sanctuary where 
people accused of practicing witchcraft are safe if they reach it. 
"But an attempt at flight is a confession of guilt ; no one is quite 
certain the accusation will fall on him, or her, and hopes for the 
best until it is generally too late. Moreover, flying anywhere, be- 
yond a day's march, is difficult work in West Africa. 1 ' 31 

Among the Ibani of Nigeria there are certain places of refuge, 
invariably the ju-ju houses of specific deities, which are set apart 
for the use of all those who have offended against the laws of 
their own country or have fled from it of their own free will. 
Thus Ekiba, the war god, has his temple containing a mud altar 
with his image and, in addition, a pair of elephant's tusks. "And 
just as with the Jews, so with these natives, the escaped criminal 
or refugee has but to lay hold of them, or in other cases, where 
there are no horns, merely on the altars, and his person, defiled 
though it is considered to be, at once becomes inviolate." While, 



SACRED THINGS 285 

however, the culprits or runaways are still under the protection of 
the sanctuary, and, until their case has been investigated and de- 
cided by the council of elders, "they are regarded by the people 
with horror and loathing, as objects which are impure and full 
of evil. So much so, in fact, that a chance or casual meeting with 
one of them, on the part of some stray passer-by, ends in the igno- 
minious flight of the latter. For while contact is not even to be 
thought of as being a downright misfortune, the forerunner of 
some hideous calamity, the mere fact of setting eyes on them 
is in itself sufficiently unfortunate/' Not until they have under- 
gone a ceremony of purification are they allowed to enter a house 
or approach any members of the community except the priests. 82 
An Ibo man (or woman) who flees to a sanctuary and claims 
its protection becomes a slave of the deity, until redeemed by the 
exchange of a cow or of some other valuable possession. If, how- 
ever, such a fugitive demands safety for life, no redemption is 
possible. All dedicated persons are held sacred and inviolate, and 
anyone injuring them gets into serious trouble. 88 Similarly, among 
the Ga people of the Gold Coast fugitives who take sanctuary are 
regarded as the slaves of the fetish priest and of the king of the 
town. The priest employs them to cultivate his gardens and en- 
gage in menial tasks ; the king uses them as messengers and drum- 
mers, and in other capacities. They need not always live in the 
immediate neighborhood of the fetish house. 84 

In the rural districts of Morocco the shrines of saints serve 
as asylums. 85 Among the Rwala Bedouin of northern Arabia the 
camps of certain tribes are universally recognized as places of 
refuge for murderers. They may pitch their tents in the tribal 
territory and pasture there their herds. If the blood price is paid, 
the murderers may then return unharmed to their own people. 8 * 
The Apache Indians extended the right of sanctuary to fugi- 
tives who took refuge in the medicine lodge or in the council 
lodge. 87 The Cherokee, Creeks, and probably other Indian tribes 
of the southeastern United States had places of refuge where a 
murderer was safe as long as he remained in one of them. Unless 
the murder was compounded, however, the friends of the slain 
man would seldom allow him to reach home alive. Echota, the 
old Cherokee capital, near the mouth of the Little Tennessee 
River, was the Cherokee asylum, commonly designated as the 
"white town' 1 or the "peace town/' The Creek asylum was the 
town of Coosa, on the Coosa River in Alabama. Though almost 
deserted when first visited by white men in the eighteenth cen- 



286 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

tury, it was still a place of refuge for those who had taken life 
without design. 88 

Among the Osage, the houses of the two hereditary chiefs 
were used as sanctuaries, not only by members of the tribe, but 
also by those of other tribes, even enemies, who sought refuge 
in them. 89 Among the Carrier Indians, a branch of the Tinne, a 
man who has killed another finds the chief's tent a refuge as long 
as he is allowed to remain there. If he quits it, the chief is power- 
less to afford him further protection unless he wears one of the 
chief's garments. He is then secure from molestation, "for nd per- 
son will attack him while clothed with this safeguard, sooner than 
he would attack the chief himself/' 40 

In former days there was an Indian sanctuary in Paradise 
Valley far up on the slopes of Mount Rainier. "On gaining this 
mountain haven the pursued was safe from his pursuer, the slayer 
might not be touched by his victim's kindred. When he crossed its 
border, the warrior laid down his arms. Criminals and cowards, 
too, were often sent here by the chiefs to do penance." 41 

Most primitive peoples possess cultic objects so sacred that 
they must be approached with due caution and treated with be- 
coming reverence. Such are the bull-roarers so often used in 
tribal initiation rites and those of secret societies, masks, musical 
instruments, fetishes, relics, altars, and images of the gods. Strin- 
gent taboos protect the sacra from being seen or touched by unini- 
tiated or unclean persons; conversely, their revelation to those 
entitled to enter within the holy of holies often forms the cul- 
minating and most solemn feature of a religious or magico-reli- 
gious ceremony. 

In Australia, just as women and children might not intrude 
upon the sacred mysteries of the men, so they might never be 
shown the bull-roarer. Its peculiar humming or whirring sound, 
when rapidly swung, is supposed by them to be the voice of the 
spirit or god who founded and still supervises the initiation rites. 
Thus in the Urabunna tribe of Central Australia a boy at initia- 
tion is told that on no account may he allow a woman or a child 
to see the sacred stick, "or else he and his mother and sisters will 
tumble down as dead as stones." 48 

The Arunta sacred objects (churinga) include, besides wooden 
bull-roarers, bits of polished stone in a great variety of forms. 
Many of the churinga are associated with the mythical ancestors 
of the tribe, who wandered over the tribal territory and finally 
went down into the earth at the places where their churinga are 



SACRED THINGS 287 

now deposited for safekeeping. Each one of these objects is 
supposed to be endowed with the attributes of its spirit owner 
and to impart to a man carrying it on his person courage and ac- 
curacy of aim as a fighter. Young men not yet initiated may not 
touch or even see the churinga** The Nyul-Nyul of Dampier 
Land in Western Australia had a meeting ground which only 
initiated men might visit. Here stood a tree in which the churinga 
were kept, wrapped in a bundle and covered with an old sailcloth. 
Not even the keepers of this precious store visited the place with- 
out first consulting the tribal council, for each man owned at 
least one of the sacred objects. These rudely scored sticks, pre- 
served with so much secrecy and care, symbolized the ancient spir- 
itual life of the aborigines "all that they possessed of myth and 
legend, all their social inheritance. "* 4 

By the Koko, a Papuan tribe, extreme care is taken to prevent 
the bull-roarers from being broken while in use. Should a bull- 
roarer break and a chip strike anyone, that person, when next he 
goes hunting or fighting, will be wounded by a boar's tusk or by 
an enemy's spear, as the case may be, and in the very place where 
the chip struck him. 48 To the Keraki, who live in southwestern 
New Guinea, a bull-roarer is far more than a mere slat of wood. 
Even to the man who handles it with skill gained from long prac- 
tice, it is fraught with some hidden and dangerous power, which 
may be transmitted through him to his wife. Before and after 
using it he must abstain from sexual relations with her. She would 
become ill as the result of such intercourse while the influence of 
the bull-roarer still affected her husband.* 6 

The Elema people of the Papuan Gulf make use of certain 
masks (hevehe), representing spirits, in the spectacular initiation 
ceremonies. When the masks are taken into the men's house, that 
building acquires additional sanctity; it has become mystically 
dangerous, a "hot house." Previously, all males had access to it, 
but now it may be entered only by men who know that the masks 
are really things made by human hands. This profound secret is 
revealed to boys at a special ceremony of initiation. Yet the boys, 
though qualified to frequent the men's house, do not do so. "They 
are afraid of the place. Youth is very nervous of the supernat- 
ural." The elders, moreover, would not tolerate them in the men's 
house. There are times when it is taboo to all except old men. "It 
would seem that increasing age confers some immunity against 
the supernatural, as against measles." Elema women are told "and 
affect to believe" that the masks are daughters of the sea-monsters 



288 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

and that they have been brought up from the deep for a sojourn 
in the men's house. 47 

The Papuans of the Purari Delta apply the term imunu to 
many religious and ceremonial objects, such as bull-roarers and 
masks. Hunting charms, old relics, grotesque carvings, freaks of 
nature, are also said to be imunu. "Such objects are queer or mys- 
terious or secret; they are holy in the sense that they are unap- 
proachable or untouchable; they have some kind of potency for 
good or evil ; they are treasured with the utmost care ; age seems 
to add to the mana of them .... Anything which a native dreads 
for the harm it may do him, and fears because of its strangeness, 
and cajoles for its favours, and fondly treasures for its old associ- 
ations, he will tell you is imunu" 4 * 

In New Britain, images of certain animals, made of stone or 
wood and roughly carved or painted, are kept in the lodge of the 
Ingiet secret society. Many of them have a human form, and all 
of them are looked upon with dread as being the abode of "de- 
structive spirits/' 49 Similarly in Florida, one of the Solomons, 
images of birds and fish, crocodiles and sharks, the sun, the moon, 
and men, are preserved in the sanctuary of the Matambala secret 
society. 50 

In Malekula, one of the New Hebrides, the tall tapering hats 
or masks worn by members of a secret society possess extreme 
sanctity. The methods of making and decorating them are secrets 
revealed only to initiates. It is a terrible accident for a mask to 
fall to the ground. In former days the luckless man who had such 
an accident while dancing was put to death. A man who stepped 
across part of a mask suffered the same fate. A dog, pig, or other 
animal which touches one is killed. 51 The ivory teeth of the sperm 
whale are the objects most revered by some of the Fijian tribes. 
A subtle aura seems to emanate from them, "breathing of mystery 
and religion." Even their name (tambua) derived from the Mel- 
anesian tambu (tabu), indicates that they are sacred objects. 
Those most sacred are kept in special baskets and are seldom seen 
except by the few who know of their existence. No worship is 
paid to them, but they serve as venerated mascots and embody 
the "luck" of the tribe. 52 

In New Zealand, the term atua was used in a wide sense. It 
included all supernatural beings, or manifestations of such beings, 
from the majestic Supreme Deity to low-class malignant spirits. 
Even inanimate objects were viewed as atua. Anything uncanny 
or strange, such as certain rocks and trees, would be so regarded. 



SACRED THINGS 289 

Any impious interference with such objects always brought pun- 
ishment to the offender. 88 

The Samoans paid reverence to sacred stones. In one island 
the shrine of the god Turia was a very smooth stone, which was 
kept in a sacred grove. The priest carefully weeded the ground 
about it and covered it with branches, so that the god might keep 
warm. "No one dared to touch this stone, lest a poisonous and 
deadly influence of some kind should at once radiate from it to 
the transgressor." 54 

The peoples of the Netherlands Indies say that, while plants 
and animals die, mortality does not pertain to stones. Hence these 
ought to be treated most respectfully. When in Dutch New Guinea 
some rocks had to be removed for the building of a road, the 
natives were convinced that this impious deed would be followed 
by an outbreak of pestilence among their pigs. 55 

The Karen of Burma, especially the wilder tribes, hold some 
stones in great reverence as possessing superhuman powers. They 
are generally private property, though in some villages there are 
stones "so sacred and powerful that none but certain of the wisest 
elders dare look on them." Such objects are generally pieces of 
rock-crystal or curiously stratified rock. "Anything that strikes 
the poor ignorant Karen as uncommon is regarded as necessarily 
possessing occult powers." 56 Among the Angami Naga stones 
of peculiar shape or appearance or of large size "readily become 
objects of awe." In one Angami village there is a stone which 
lies, white and shining, in the bed of a stream. To raise it or 
roll it to the bank would result in a fierce storm of wind or hail. 
The Sema Naga venerate any queerly shaped stone, but they most 
prize a water-worn black stone approximately spherical in shape 
and with a thin white stratum dividing it into two parts. Such 
an object gives success in war to the village fortunate to possess it. 
To remove it might injure the crops. 57 The Ao Naga, who wor- 
ship sacred boulders, do not disturb them ; to do so would be very 
likely to bring on a bad storm. 58 

Among the Ainu the cult of the inau plays a prominent part. 
These objects are of varied shapes, the most common type being a 
small stick of yellow wood whittled at the top into a mass of curled 
shavings. The inau are not gods or offerings, but living mediators 
between man and the gods. Without the fwow, think the Ainu, 
"not a prayer would be heard, not a want would be satisfied, and 
life itself would be impossible." 59 

Certain bells, namely those which seem never to have had 



290 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

tongues, are the most sacred of the Toda sacred objects. Nearly 
all receive offerings of milk, curds, or buttermilk during the dairy 
ceremonial. There is much reason to believe that their present 
sanctity has come about gradually, by a process of transference 
from the sanctity of the bell-cows or buffaloes to the bells which 
they carried. 60 Ceremonial arrows are important in the religious 
rites of the Vedda. The "more sophisticated" natives, who be- 
lieve in the periodical uncleanness of women (a belief borrowed 
from the Singhalese), are careful to avoid contamination of these 
sacred objects. This is generally accomplished by keeping them in 
some remote spot such as a cave or in the roof thatch. 61 

The Wanika of Kenya possess a great drum made out of the 
hollowed section of a tree trunk. This drum is so sacred in char- 
acter that when it is brought out all the uninitiated must hide, for 
should they see it they would surely die. 62 One of the Baganda 
clans had the care of a drum which was brought to court and 
beaten when the king wished to announce to his people the end- 
ing of a period of mourning. "The drum was sacrosanct; for 
example, if a slave disliked his master, and escaped to the drum- 
shrine, he became the servant of the drum, and could not be re- 
moved. So, too, if any person had been condemned to death and 
was able to escape to the shrine, he might remain there in safety, 
he was the slave of the drum. Should any cow, goat, or sheep 
stray there, it became the property of the drum, and could not be 
taken away or killed ; it might roam about as it liked, in the future 
it was a sacred animal." 68 

The Yoruba of the Slave Coast express the idea of "super- 
natural and supersensuous power" by the term ogan. Wooden 
masks worn in the rites of the Oro secret society, the Oro stick, 
or bullroarer, and the magician's staff all possess ogan.** 

The sacred trumpets, used by the Uaupes of Brazil to produce 
the jurupari (forest-spirit) music, are never shown to women; 
when their music is heard the women must retire to the woods. 
Death would be the penalty for even an accidental sight of these 
objects, "and it is said that fathers have been the executioners 
of their own daughters, and husbands of their wives, when such 
has been the case." 65 The Yahuna, another Brazilian tribe, say 
that if women and small children saw the sacred flutes, the for- 
mer would die at once and the latter would eat earth, become 
sick, and then die. 66 

The people of San Miguel Acatan, a village of northwestern 
Guatemala, have long been nominal Christians, but their religious 



SACRED THINGS 291 

beliefs and practices represent a fusion of elements drawn from 
ancient Mayan and Catholic sources. In the house of the chief 
priest reposes an old wooden cask, embodying such powerful 
supernatural forces as to be the most sacred object of the villagers. 
Prayers are offered to it ; lighted candles illuminate it ; and clouds 
of incense vapor continually bathe its sides. In the presence of 
the cask hats are always doffed, whether in the house or during 
those solemn processions when it is transferred from the home 
of the departing chief to that of his successor. No sorcery can 
harm the cask; indeed, by virtue of its protection the chief priest 
and his assistants are immune to black magic. Prayers for rain 
and other rites are performed before it. No one but the chief 
priest has access to the interior of this mysterious object, and he 
dares not reveal the contents. Gossip declares, however, that it 
holds two saints' images, a gold crown, some prayer books, and 
the land titles of the village. 67 

Among the Zuni of New Mexico all sacred objects are taboo 
to people who do not "belong" to them. No one would dare to 
touch certain fetishes except the head of the priesthood which 
has them in charge, and no one but he and his female counterpart 
would enter the room where these are kept. The same is true, also, 
of the masks and the altars of the secret societies. Prayer sticks 
and ceremonial garments are handled with great respect, and no 
more than necessary. Recently a youth was found guilty of sell- 
ing a mask. He managed to escape and so avoided a flogging by 
masked priests. They then whipped all the men in the kivas 
(assembly places) "for purification." 88 

The Cherokee, the Creeks, and some of the Plains Indians had 
sacred objects of tribal veneration; for example, the "flat pipe" 
of the Arapaho, and the great shell of the Omaha. Such an object 
formed a true palladium, upon whose continued safe possession 
the prosperity of the tribe depended. It was guarded by a priest 
and was seldom or never shown except on certain great occasions. 
Like the Hebrew Ark of the Covenant it was sometimes carried 
into battle to insure victory. 69 According to a common belief, the 
presence of so powerful an object would be enervating or pos- 
itively dangerous to people in its vicinity unless they were fortified 
by a ceremonial tonic. "For this reason every great 'medicine' 
is usually kept apart in a hut or tipi built for the purpose, very 
much as we are accustomed to store explosives at some distance 
from the dwelling or business house." 70 

The sacred pole of the Omaha had to be greased every year 



292 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

when the people were about to return home from the summer 
hunt. Were this ceremony neglected, a deep snow would fall when 
they started out on the next hunt. 71 The Omaha sacred pipes, or 
pipes of peace, were not shown to common people. They were 
feared by all except persons about to be made chiefs. If a pipe 
fell to the ground at the installation of a head chief, the cere- 
mony could not be continued. 72 The sacred hat of the Cheyenne, 
made of a buffalo-cow's head, was kept in a special lodge under 
the guardianship of a man whose office was hereditary. "In old 
times a person was not permitted to stand up in the hat l6dge; 
he who entered must walk to his place and sit down without delay. 
No one must speak in a loud voice. Low tones must always be 
used. A child brought into this lodge for the first time must be 
prayed over and warned to speak in a low voice. Some proper 
person must place his hands on the bundle containing the hat and 
then rub them down over both sides of the child's body. If by 
a mischance anyone should throw against the lodge a little stick 
or stone, he must be taken into the lodge and prayed over, and 
hands that had been placed on the earth should be passed over his 
body on both sides. An enemy who entered this lodge might not 
be harmed. He was safe as safe as in his own home. In this 
lodge certain things were forbidden. No moisture must fall on 
the floor. No one might throw water on the floor nor spit on it, 
nor blow his nose with his finger there. Any of these things 
would cause a heavy rain-storm/' 78 

The notion of sacredness, involving the imposition of pro- 
tective taboos, is sometimes extended to non-cultic objects such 
as talismans and amulets. Among the Kenyah of Borneo each 
household has a bundle of charms hanging over the principal 
hearth beside the human heads and constituting the most precious 
possession of the household. No one, not even the chief, willingly 
touches or handles the bundle. When transferring it to a new 
house, some old man is specially told off for the duty, since he who 
touches it is in danger of death. "Its function seems to be to 
bring luck or prosperity of all kinds to the house; without it 
nothing would prosper, especially in warfare." 74 

The Ga people of the Gold Coast make much use of the "med- 
icines" prepared and distributed by the medicine men. Each one 
is the abode, at least intermittently, of a spiritual being. In fact, 
the object itself is often spoken of loosely as a spiritual being and 
its owner as its father or controller. It is "something that can 
act but not be seen." Usually it has no name. Such a medicine 



SACRED THINGS 293 

will act for anyone provided the owner has observed the proper 
ceremonies in becoming its possessor and also provided that he is 
careful about not violating any taboos attached to its use. There 
is an automatic quality about such a spirit or the object which it 
occupies "press the right button and the machine works for you 
whoever you are." Its activities are specialized and limited. If its 
job is to cure lockjaw, there is no use in asking it to beget children. 
Various forms of uncleanness can spoil it. For instance, no medi- 
cine, good or bad, can retain its power if taken to a latrine. A 
man who has a protective medicine to make him proof against 
murder can be murdered in such a place. For that reason medicine 
men, chiefs, and other people likely to have enemies, who usually 
have protective medicines, carefully avoid public latrines. The 
most dangerous taboos for an ordinary person to break are those 
attached to his medicines, whether a healing one owned by a phy- 
sician, a hunting one to bring success in the chase, or a trading 
one to safeguard against thieves. Usually the more valuable the 
services performed by a medicine the more exacting are the con- 
ditions attached to it. The breaking of the taboos not only spoils 
its efficacy but usually results in the illness and death of the owner. 
Not only are the taboos exacting, but they also involve a stern 
ethical code. "The holder of the medicine must refrain from 
adultery, stealing, trying to harm others, abusing others, or quar- 
relling. If others try to pick a quarrel he must turn the other 
cheek, but if unjustly attacked he may fight heartily, knowing that 
his medicine will fight with him. Medicines of this kind, with 
their great rewards and great demands, are naturally avoided by 
people who have not courage and character." 75 

Sacredness is frequently attributed to certain animals. These, 
when wild, are sometimes kept in captivity, and are protected by 
taboos. In the Solomon Islands the sacred animals include snakes, 
alligators, and sharks. Snakes which haunt a sacred place partake 
of its sanctity. Sharks are often thought to be the abode of ghosts, 
because a man sometimes announces that after dying he will ap- 
pear in this fishy form. Any shark remarkable for size or color, 
which is observed to haunt a certain shore or rock, is believed to 
contain the ghost of such a man, and his name is given to it. 
Certain men, of whom it is known that after death they will be 
in sharks, are allowed to eat the sacred food reserved for these 
creatures. In both Saa and Ulawa, if a sacred shark had tried to 
seize a man and he had escaped, the people were so fearful of the 
shark's anger that they threw the unlucky fellow back into the 



294 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

sea to be either devoured or drowned. Te The natives of the Pelew 
Islands have sacred animals corresponding to the totems of the 
clans. One of the animals, the puffin, is often fed and tamed ; it is 
never harmed. 71 In Formosa each tribe or village has a sacred 
animal, under whose protection the inhabitants believe themselves 
to be. This animal, for instance a serpent or a leopard, is kept in a 
cage and provided with food. 78 

On the Slave Coast of West Africa any person accidentally 
touched by the sacred python is thereby consecrated to the god 
and is required to serve it for the remainder of his days. At Why- 
dah the people may not look upon this holy serpent, when it is 
led forth in procession, because, if they did so, "their bodies 
would at once become the prey of loathsome maggots. 117 * The 
python is sacred in most parts of the Ibo country; it is never 
molested. The tortoise enjoys the same sanctity. 80 

Sanctity, being transmissible, can affect with its dangerous 
qualities whatever is done at a particular time; hence ordinary 
pursuits will be suspended during a period devoted to religious 
observances. Moreover, the success of the ceremonies would be 
jeopardized by the contact of what is sacred with what is cer- 
tainly secular and possibly is polluting. When holy days come to 
be consecrated to divinities or to semi-divine beings, the notion 
easily arises that a god is pleased and flattered by the enforced 
idleness of his devotees. Abstinence from work thus takes its 
place among other rites as a recognized means of expressing 
reverence for the god ; while, conversely, to labor on a holy day 
implies a disrespectful attitude toward him. These are sentiments 
reasonably certain of continued development, as priestly influence 
becomes predominant in any community. "The Lord thy God is 
a jealous God." 81 

The old Hawaiians celebrated a New Year's festival in honor 
of the god Lono. On the twenty-third of Welehu, which nearly 
corresponded to November, Lono's image was decorated and, 
when night came on, all the people went to bathe in the sea. This 
rite of purification having been accomplished, men and women 
donned new clothing in preparation for the festival to begin at 
sunrise on the morrow. During its continuance no fishing, no 
bathing, no pounding of bark cloth, and no beating of drums or 
blowing of conch shells was permitted. Land and sky and sea 
were taboo to Lono, and only feasting and games were allowed. 
The high priest was blindfolded and remained in seclusion. On 
the fifth day the bandage was removed from his eyes, and canoes 



SACRED THINGS 295 

were allowed to put to sea. On the sixth day the taboo season began 
again and continued for about twenty days longer. The cere- 
monies at length drew to a close, the ornaments of Lono's image 
were packed up and deposited in the temple for another year, 
and all restrictions on fishing and farming were removed. 82 

The natives of Samoa possessed a complex pantheon of house- 
hold and village gods, the recipients of prayer and sacrifice and, 
in the case of the village gods, provided with temples, served by 
priests, and honored with annual festivals. The Samoans had also 
war gods, who, like the other deities, were supposed to be incar- 
nate in animals or embodied in inanimate objects. One of these 
militant divinities was the cuttlefish (fe'e). In one place Fe'e was 
a general village god whose province was not confined to war. 
"The month of May was sacred to his worship. No traveller was 
then allowed to pass through the village by the public road; nor 
was any canoe allowed in the lagoon off that part of the settle- 
ment. There was great feasting, too, on these occasions, and 

also games, club exercise, spear-throwing, wrestling, etc 

In another district three months were sacred to the worship of 
Fe'e. During that time anyone passing along the road, or in the 
lagoon, would be beaten, if not killed, for insulting the god. For 
the first month torches and all other lights were forbidden, as 
the god was about and did not wish to be seen. White turbans 
were also forbidden during the festivities, and confined to war. 
At this time, also, all unsightly projecting burdens such as a log 
of firewood on the shoulder were forbidden, lest it should be 
considered by the god as a mockery of his tentacula."** Another 
village god, who rejoiced in the name of Titi Usi, or Glittering 
Leaf Girdle, received worship at the new moon. "At that time 
all work was suspended for a day or two. The cocoanut-leaf 
blinds were kept down, and the people sat still in their houses. 
Anyone walking in front of the house risked a beating. After 
prayer and feasting a man went about and blew a shell-trumpet 
as a sign to all that the ceremonies were over, and that the usual 
routine of village and family life might be resumed." 84 

When the god Ratu-mai-Mbulu (Lord from Hades) visited 
the Fiji Islands in December, the inhabitants lived very quietly 
for an entire month. During this time it was taboo to beat the 
drum, to sound the conch shell, to dance, to plant, to fight, or to 
sing at sea, "lest Ratu-mai-Mbulu be disturbed at his work of 
pouring sap into the fruit-trees and of pushing the young yam 
shoots through the soil." 88 A similar festival, if such it may be 



296 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

called, was formerly observed by the Mboumbutho, a purely Mel- 
anesian tribe of Fiji. It lasted for ten days, and during this time 
the plantations might not be visited. From dawn to noon on the 
first day of the festival, no one was allowed to appear in public. 
The people shut the doors of their dwellings and remained recum- 
bent on their mats. An absolute silence was maintained "for fear 
of disturbing the gods." The second day was also holy. The 
people kept within their villages and refrained from bathing. 
Those who bathed went mad; hence arose the expression, "Why 
are you such a fool ; perhaps you bathed during the rwfeu?" It was 
believed, also, that children born at this time would grow up 
stupid and die prematurely. 86 

The religious ceremonies of the Dravidian-speaking peoples of 
India are marked by taboos, especially those imposing a cessation 
of labor. The Kota, an aboriginal tribe of Nilgiri Hills, hold an 
annual festival, called kambata or kamata, in honor of Kama- 
taraya. It lasts about a fortnight. On the second day of the cere- 
mony no work may be done except digging clay and making pots. 87 
The Uraon keep three great feasts during the year. The first, 
known as sarhtd, occurs in May. Its object is said to be the mys- 
tical marriage of the sun-god with the earth-goddess, in order 
that they may become fruitful and consequently bestow good 
crops. At the same time, the Uraon take care to propitiate all the 
village spirits, lest the latter frustrate the efforts of Sun and Earth 
to increase and multiply. On the eve of the appointed day no one 
is allowed to plow his fields. 88 A festival, called ucharcd, is cele- 
brated on the Malabar coast at the end of January, when Mother 
Earth has her annual menstruation. For three days at this time 
the people stop all work, except hunting: the house may not be 
cleaned; the daily smearing of the floor with cow-dung is discon- 
tinued ; and even gardens may not be watered. 89 

Many African peoples have market weeks, beginning (or 
ending) with a market day. On the Lower Congo this sometimes 
bears an unfavorable character, and a distinct tendency exists to 
attach various restrictions to it. In the Guinea region the market 
day often, though not always, coincides with the general day of 
rest observed by an entire community. As such it may be dedi- 
cated to a god. 90 

The consecration of a particular day to a divinity is a com- 
mon feature of polytheistic cults. Had we definite information 
concerning the origin and development of the great deities of the 
higher religions, it would probably appear that in most instances 



SACRED THINGS 297 

their association with particular days is a secondary rather than a 
primary phenomenon. In other words, a period dedicated to a 
god, observed by his worshipers with abstinence from labor, and 
sometimes marked by complete quiescence may once have been a 
season of taboo devoid of any connection with a divinity. This 
conclusion is borne out by the fact that in some of the lower reli- 
gions tabooed days have actually developed into holy days. Thus 
the four taboo periods in the Hawaiian lunar month, which were 
dedicated to the great gods of the native pantheon, must be con- 
sidered to have had no original connection with any divinity, for 
among the Dayak of Borneo and other primitive peoples there 
are numerous taboos attaching to the phases of the moon and im- 
posing communal abstinence. The Bontoc Igorot, a non-Chris- 
tian people of northern Luzon, keep a sacred rest day, called 
tengao, which occurs, on an average, about every ten days during 
the year. It is dedicated to Lumawig, the only god throughout 
the Bontoc cultural area. These Igorot observe, however, various 
other festivals which are intended to propitiate, not Lumawig, but 
evil-minded spirits and are also marked by a compulsory cessation 
of labor. 91 The association of the tengao with Lumawig can 
scarcely be earlier than the emergence of this supreme being from 
the crowd of spirits, good and bad, in whose existence the Igorot 
so firmly believe. On the Slave Coast of West Africa an annual 
All Souls' festival is observed as a period of abstinence. It honors 
Egungun, a god who rose from the dead and after whom a pow- 
erful secret society has been named. A similar ceremony, imposing 
a cessation of labor for eight days, is found among the Gold Coast 
tribes, who, however, have not dedicated it to any divinity. 92 

Many peoples of the lower culture ascribe a peculiar sacred- 
ness to certain numbers, which, like names, are regarded as vir- 
tual entities and are endowed with occult power. It is seldom 
possible to account satisfactorily for the sacrosanct character of a 
given number ; the original reasons for giving to it a special sig- 
nificance are usually veiled in that obscurity which hides the origin 
of most primitive beliefs. 98 

Among sacred numbers seven, in particular, has enjoyed a 
marked importance. With a symbolic and mystic significance, it 
occurs among the Babylonians, Greeks, and Hindus at the very 
dawn of their history, and it still plays a prominent role in the 
popular lore of India, China, and southeastern Asia. Cultural 
influences, emanating from the Asiatic mainland, may have in- 
troduced the cult of seven into Borneo and the Melanesian Islands. 



298 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Among the Dusun of British North Borneo that number bears a 
distinctly evil character. They consider twelve days of the month, 
beginning with the seventh and including also the fourteenth and 
twenty-first, as bad for agricultural labor. At such times they 
refrain from going to their rice fields, under penalty of failure of 
the crop, but other work than that on the farms may sometimes be 
performed. 94 When the first missionaries visited the New He- 
brides and introduced the European week, with Sunday as a day 
of rest, the natives were much astonished to learn that the for- 
eigners knew about their bugi kai bituki, or evil day. These Mela- 
nesians had never recognized any time divisions shorter than the 
lunar month, but it had long been a custom among them to mark 
the seventh day by certain taboos. The natives would not engage 
in warfare on the seventh day after the declaration of hostilities, 
nor would they attempt to execute vengeance on the seventh day 
after the receipt of an insult. 95 In certain parts of Fiji some de- 
gree of unluckiness attaches to the seventh day. 96 The Akikuyu 
of East Africa also ascribe a very special ill luck to the seventh 
day. A herdsman will not herd his flocks for more than six days, 
and on the seventh day he must be relieved by another man. One 
who has been away on a journey for six days will not return to his 
village on the seventh day ; rather than do so he will go and sleep 
at the house of a neighbor a short distance away. Were this rule 
broken, he would certainly be struck down by some serious illness, 
and a medicine man would have to be called in to remove it. "This 
belief," we are told, "makes it easy for the missionaries to explain 
to the Akikuyu the meaning of the Christian observance of the 
Sabbath." 97 

Sacred rites must be carried out with the greatest exactitude, 
the most becoming reverence, and woe betide their practitioner 
who fails in these respects. In the Qat, the great dancing society 
of the Banks Islands, neophytes learned a very difficult dance, re- 
quiring several months of practice before a performance could be 
given. An error in the dance was considered so serious that the 
old men, "past their dancing days," would shoot their arrows 
into the group of performers, and if anyone was hit the blame 
was laid on the faulty dancer. 98 When the Areoi, a secret society 
widespread throughout the Polynesian area, gave a dramatic rep- 
resentation, an error of a single word or verse in the recitation 
would suspend the performance. Hence arose the necessity of a 
most rigorous apprenticeship before candidates were admitted to 
the society.** 



SACRED THINGS 299 

Among the Sema Naga of Assam there is a personage'called 
the amthao ("First Reaper"), whose business it is to start the 
cutting of each crop. The office may be held by either a man or a 
woman. It is unpopular, however, for the amthao is likely to die 
if he or she makes any mistake in the conduct of a ceremony, in 
particular one performed when the harvest promises to be excep- 
tionally good. 100 In Ashanti "the custodians of the tribal lore, 
each of whom has his or her understudy, have to be absolutely 
'word perfect/ Their memory is constantly exercised in the nu- 
merous rites they attend, at which they have to repeat correctly 
long lists of names and events in their proper order." Our author- 
ity, who attended a ceremony at which two old women recited the 
titles of the great ancestral spirits as far back as any record 
existed, was informed that in the old days two executioners 
would have been stationed behind the women and that if they 
made a mistake they were "taken away." 101 

Among the Zuni of New Mexico whipping is a purificatory 
rite performed after any ceremonial misadventure, for instance, 
a fall by one of the sacred personators. Not only will the culprit 
himself be whipped, but other people as well, lest some disaster 
overtake the community. 102 In the dances performed by secret 
societies among the Kwakiutl of British Columbia no greater mis- 
fortune could occur than an error in the recitation or an unlucky 
slip in the dance. Such a mischance meant that the ill will of the 
spirits had been directed against the members concerned. 103 

Ritual formulas, whether employed as spells or prayers, are 
sacred. Occult power resides in them ; hence they must be prop- 
erly pronounced and only by magicians or priests qualified to use 
them. It may be assumed with some confidence that the magical 
and liturgical texts now collected in sacred books, the Bibles of 
mankind, were often preserved by memory and transmitted orally 
long before their fixation by writing. If this were not so, we 
should be at a loss to explain their ancient and sometimes very 
incomprehensible wording. 

The myths and traditions of a primitive community possess a 
sacred character; they must not be spoken of lightly, or be told on 
ordinary occasions, or be represented in any unbecoming way. 104 
A taboo, found ,in many parts of the world, forbids their recita- 
tion in the daytime. In Dobu, an island in the D'Entrecasteaux 
group, legends might be told only by night; otherwise both nar- 
rators and listeners would become fixed to one another and to the 
place where they were sitting (not standing, for that was also 



300 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

taboo.) 105 The Sulka of New Britain believe that an evil-minded 
spirit, named Kot, objects to their recital of the tribal legends in the 
daytime. These must be told only after nightfall ; otherwise Kot 
will send a thunderstorm and the people will be struck by light- 
ning. 108 The natives of the Solomon Islands think that an impious 
person who dared to recite a myth during the daytime would be- 
come bald. 107 The Bechuana of South Africa say that were they 
to tell their stories before sunset the clouds would descend from 
the sky upon their heads. 108 The Baluba of the Belgian Congo 
observe the same restriction, though we are not informed as to 
the penalty for its violation. 109 

The Berbers of North Africa are persuaded that tale-telling 
by day sometimes has disastrous consequences for the narrator, 
but more often for children and other members of the family. In 
one group the narrator's uncle will acquire horns on his head ; in 
another group the narrator will become ill and his children "will be 
killed by the horns of savage animals; and in another group a 
female narrator will bear tiny children destined to be always little 
and weak or children that are monsters. Most commonly it is be- 
lieved that the children of a male or female narrator will get 
scurvy. 110 

Taboos of tale-telling, not only during the daytime but also 
in summer, are numerous among the North American Indians. 
In many cases the taboos are supported by the belief that their 
nonobsefvance will cause snakes to appear. The Navaho cele- 
brate their Mountain Chant, a nine-days' ceremony, only in the 
winter season when thunder is not heard and rattlesnakes are hi- 
bernating. "Were they to tell of their chief gods or relate their 
myths of the ancient days at any other time, death from lightning 
or snake-bite would, they believe, be their early fate." 111 When 
the buds had opened on the trees, the Iroquois stopped telling 
myths and for these substituted historical traditions. But when 
the leaves began to fall, the recital of myths again furnished the 
chief amusement of the people during their hours of leisure. 112 

The sacredness which attaches to chiefs, kings, magicians, and 
priests is naturally extended to their names. Great precautions 
are often taken to keep these secret or, if generally known, 4o pro- 
hibit their use by commoners, under severe penalties for a viola- 
tion of the rule. Recourse must therefore be had to synonyms 
or to circumlocutions, when reference is made to such sacred per- 
sons, a fact which accounts for many dialectical differences in the 
speech of related tribes or peoples. 118 



SACRED THINGS 301 

In the Marquesas Islands and the Society Islands a high chief 
would select for his name or for that of his son (the heir ap- 
parent) the name of a familiar article, quality, or action. In such 
a case the common word would be used no longer and would be 
replaced by another coined for the occasion. Thus the king of 
Tahiti, being much troubled by a cough, assumed the name Po- 
mare (night-cough). Immediately po ("night") was dropped 
from common use and rui used in its place, while mare was 
changed to kare. One of the early missionaries mentions upwards 
of forty words so changed in his time. 11 * In Samoa an animal's 
name, if the same as that of a sacred chief, was at once changed, 
and the old name might never again be used in that chief's dis- 
trict. 115 In New Zealand any common word which happened to 
be that of a head chief was dropped from use and a substitute 
found for it, a practice which naturally produced a great many 
synonyms in the Maori language. Thus were a chief called Wai 
(water), a new name for water would have to be found, since 
the use of the chief's name in common parlance formed a viola- 
tion of his sanctity. 116 

Among the Malagasy the circumstances which bring about the 
changed meaning of words and sometimes their temporary or 
total disuse are almost invariably associated with the king or 
head of a tribe. 117 

A Zulu chief usually changes his name upon arriving at man- 
hood. Should he take the name of a common object, its old desig- 
nation falls out of use and must be replaced by another in ordinary 
speech. "One chief was called Langa the sun and in that tribe 
the name of the sun was changed to gala, and so remains to this 
day, though Langa died more than one hundred years ago." 118 In 
Dahomey the king's name is always kept secret, lest some evil- 
minded person who learned it should do him harm. He is known 
simply by a mere title, or "strong name," which, unlike his birth- 
name, does not form part of his personality and hence can be 
safely uttered. 119 

The names of spirits and gods are frequently tabooed on cer- 
tain occasions. Sometimes such names must never be pronounced. 
Utterance of the name of a supernatural being in ordinary con- 
versation may be considered to pollute his sanctity or to give mag- 
ical control over him ; hence he is supposed to resent and punish 
such conduct. On the other hand, there may be a natural reluc- 
tance on the part of worshipers to attract the attention of a spir- 
itual being by mentioning his name, especially if he is thought of 



302 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

as irritable or perhaps malevolent. These ideas of the uncanny 
and fearsome blend gradually with those of growing reverence 
toward spirits and gods, until at length blasphemy comes to be 
regarded as a sin, one of the greatest of sins. 

The tribes of southeastern Australia have a belief in an an- 
thropomorphic being called Daramulun, Biamban, or Baiame, 
and also by other names. At one time he lived on the earth, when 
he gave men their customs, assigned them their hunting grounds, 
and established their initiatory rites. Afterward this tribal All- 
Father went to a land in or beyond the sky, where he still remains 
and keeps jealous watch over the morals of his people. Women 
know of his existence, but not by his real name, which is only 
revealed to the youth at their initiation into manhood. The men 
never use his name lightly or with levity. Among the Ngarigo 
and Wolgal tribes of New South Wales there is such a disinclina- 
tion to pronounce his name that in speaking of him they generally 
use elliptical expressions such as "He," "the man," or "the name 
I told you of." 120 

On Murray Island, in Torres Straits, the culture hero in the 
myth which relates the origin of the initiation ceremonies is Malu, 
and by this name he is known to women and children. His real 
name, revealed only to the initiated and never to to be uttered by 
them, is Bomai. 121 The Barotse of South Africa shrink from pro- 
nouncing the name of their chief god, Nyambe. For it they sub- 
stitute the word molemo, which, besides meaning God, also de- 
notes good and evil spirits, talismans, and amulets. 122 By the 
Plains Indians "the name of the Great Spirit is seldom mentioned 
above a whisper and then only on rare and solemn occasions and 
never in ordinary conversation." Their language contains no word 
equivalent to even the smallest oath. 123 By the Makah of Cape 
Flattery, Washington, the name of their "Supreme Being" is 
never pronounced except by those initiated into their secret rites. 124 

Since sacred persons and spiritual beings cannot well remain 
nameless, the avoidance of one set of names for them compels 
the adoption of euphemisms. These are also used for the names 
of the dead, of animals to be propitiated or killed, of diseases, and, 
indeed, of anything and everything which needs to be approached 
with due caution. 125 Thus among the Malagasy, when the sov- 
ereign is ill he must not be called "ill," but "warmish." When- 
dead, he must be said to have "turned his back." His corpse is 
not called by the usual name for a corpse ; it is termed "the sacred 
thing." And he is not buried, but "hidden." 126 



SACRED THINGS 303 

The same motive which accounts for the use of euphemisms 
leads to the employment of so-called taboo languages as means of 
approaching and dealing with superior powers, whether human, 
natural, or supernatural in character. Both euphemisms and taboo 
languages are devices to separate things polluted or sacred from 
things which may be treated freely and without precautions. 127 
For instance, the Samoans have a language of courtesy called 
"chief's language," which is always employed in speaking to, or 
of, a chief. In some cases it varies in accordance with the rank 
of the person addressed or to whom reference is made. 128 

These special forms of speech are well developed among the 
Malays of the Malay Peninsula. An example is the "camphor 
language*' of the Jakun of Johor, who use it while absent in the 
forests searching for camphor, in order to propitiate the camphor- 
tree spirit. The use of the language forms only one part of the 
necessary ritual, which includes abstinence from certain kinds of 
food and from washing and bathing, as well as a sacrifice of a 
portion of each meal to the spirit. Furthermore, it is essential 
that the men and women left behind in the settlement should 
likewise speak this jargon while the camphor seekers are absent. 
Besides the "camphor language" the Malays have lists of words 
which must be used in speaking to royalty and under no other 
circumstances. There are also many euphemisms applicable to 
fishing, fowling, mining, warfare, and other occupations, as well 
as a "spirit language" used by magicians. 129 

The Vedda of Ceylon, together with some of the Singhalese, 
make use of a "jungle language" when hunting. It consists of a 
separate series of expressions for many animals, to the exclusion 
of the usual names for them. The natives believe that "unless a 
special dialect be employed while they are in the forest, they can- 
not expect to meet with any success in seeking honey, or hunting, 
or in avoiding dangerous animals." 180 The Toda of the Nilgiri 
Hills have a "sacred language" which is used only in the dairy 
ceremonial. 181 

The various taboos of sanctity which have now been passed 
in review those affecting chiefs, kings, magicians, and priests, 
sacred places, sacred objects, sacred times, sacred numbers, sacred 
rites and formulas, and sacred names have no such wide diffu- 
sion among primitive peoples as the taboos of pollution, particu- 
larly those in connection with the great crises of human life. 
Many taboos of sanctity must also be greatly surpassed in an- 
tiquity by those of pollution, for the regulations dealing with 



304 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

sacred persons and all that affects them could have arisen only in 
a state of society relatively advanced. In short, the conception of 
taboo as "sacredness" represents a rather late development of hu- 
man thought. 

NOTES TO CHAPTER VIII 

1 R. H. Mathews, in Proceedings of the American' Philosophical Society, 
XXXIX (1900), 630; A. W. Howitt, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 
XIII (1884), 452, note 1. 

2 L. Sharp, "Ritual Life and Economics of the Yir-Yorunt of Cape York 
Peninsula, Oceania, V (1934-1935), pp. 26 f. 

8 Margaret Mead, in Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of 
Natural History, XXXVII, 341 f ., 344, 392. 

4 George Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians (London, 1910), p. 239. 

Ibid., p. 60. 

8 R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians (Oxford, 1891), pp. 175 ff. According 
to a later account, the people of the Solomon Islands have family shrines, which 
may be huts erected on poles or niches hewn out of the face of a cliff. In these 
receptacles they store the skulls of the deceased. The head, which is the only 
part of a corpse to be preserved, is cleaned very carefully, and in the case of an 
important chief the features are restored by molding a kind of putty made from 
a nut. The eyes and tattoo marks are formed of pearl shell, and for the hair 
the genuine article or a native fiber is used. A family shrine is strictly taboo 
to women. Countless spirits haunt the place (S. G. C. Knibbs, The Savage Solo- 
mons as They Were and Are [London, 1929], pp. 32 f.). 

7 Herman Melville, Typee (new ed., Boston, 1892), p. 252. 

Ibid., pp. 132-33. 

9 E. E. V. Collocott, "The Supernatural in Tonga," American Anthropolo- 
gist (n.s., 1921), XXIII, 417. 

10 Edward Shortland, The Southern Districts of New Zealand (London, 
1851), p. 293. Another reason for this precaution may have been the fear lest 
the clothes, pertaining as they did to the non-sacred world and possibly having 
been in contact with things unclean, would pollute the sanctity of the holy place. 
Maori scholars who entered the sacred school of learning had first to divest 
themselves of their garments and enter completely nude. They then put on 
special garments kept in the house for such occasions (E. Best, "Maori Religion 
and Mythology," Dominion Museum Bulletin, No. 10, p. 169). 

11 S. Walleser, "Religiose Anschauungen und Gebrauche der Bewohner von 
Jap (Deutsche Siidsee)," Anthropos, VIII (1913), 625. 

12 H. O. Forbes, A Naturalist's Wanderings in the Eastern Archipelago 
(London, 1885), p. 443. 

18 H. Zondervan, in Tijdschrift van het Nederlandsch Aardrijkskundig 
Genootschap (2d series, 1888), V, 398. 

i* E. W. Smith and A. M. Dale, Th* lla-speaking Peoples of Northern 
Rhodesia (London, 1920), II, 183 ff. 

15 Adolf Bastian, Die deutsche Expedition an der Lotmgo-Kiiste (Jena, 
1874-1875), I, 219. 

16 A. B. Ellis, The Yorubo-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West 
Africa (London, 1894), p. 98. 



SACRED THINGS 305 

" H. Seidel, "System der Fetischverbote in Togo," Globus, LXXIII (1898), 
342. 

18 P. A. Talbot, Some Nigerian Fertility Cults (Oxford, 1927), p. 130. 

19 See Albert Hellwig, Das Asylrecht der Naturvolker (Berlin, 1903) ; idem, 
Beitrage zur Asylrecht von Oseanien (Stuttgart, 1906) ; Edward Westermarck, 
"Asylum," Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, II, 161-64; idem, 
The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (London, 1906-1908), II, 
628-38. 

20 Sir Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, The Native Tribes of Central Aus- 
tralia (London, 1899), pp. 134 f. A similar sanctuary is found in the Kaitish 
tribe (iidem t The Northern Tribes of Central Australia [London, 1904], p. 270). 

21 James Chalmers and W. W. Gill, Work and Adventure in New Guinea 
(London, 1885), p. 186. 

22 F. E. Williams, Drama of Orokolo (Oxford, 1940), pp. 226 f. 

28 H. B. Guppy, The Solomon Islands and Their Natives (London, 1887), 
p. 67. 

24 Charles Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition 
(Philadelphia, 1845), II, 150. In Upolu, one of the Samoan group, the god Vave 
had his special residence in an old tree, which served as an asylum for mur- 
derers and others who had committed a capital offense. "If that tree was 
reached by the criminal he was safe, and the avenger of blood could pursue no 
further, but wait investigation and trial" (George Turner, Samoa [London, 
1884], pp. 64 f.). 

25 John Martin, An Account of the Natives of the Tonga Islands from 

the Extensive Communications of Mr. William Mariner, 3d ed., Edinburgh, 
1827, I, 189, II, 186. 

26 J. J. Jarves, History of the Hawaiian or Sandwich Islands (2d ed., 
Boston, 1843), pp. 58 f. For a fuller account of the Hawaiian pohonua see 
William Ellis, Polynesian Researches (2d ed., London, 1831), IV, 166 ff. 

2T Edward Tregear, The Maori Race (Wanganui, New Zealand, 1904), 
pp. 202 f . 

28 Hans Schinz, Deutsch-Sudwest-Afrika (Oldenburg and Leipzig [1891]), 
p. 312. 

29 A. St. Hill Gibbons, Exploration and Hunting in Central Africa (Lon- 
don, 1898), p. 129. 

so A. C. Hollis, The Nandi (Oxford, 1909), pp. 74 f. 

81 Mary H. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (London, 1897), p. 466. 

82 A. G. Leonard, The Lower Niger and Its Tribes (London, 1906), pp. 
465 ff. Ju-ju, in West African jargon, refers to anything sacred such as idols, 
temples, and fetishes. 

88 G. T. Basden, Niger Ibos (London, [1938]), p. 247. 
* B. Struck, in Globus, XCIII (1908), 31. 

38 Arthur Leared, Morocco and the Moors (2d ed., London, 1891), p. 248. 
88 Alois Musil, The Manners and Customs of the Rwala Bedouins (New 
York, 1928), pp. 491 ff. 

87 J. G. Bourke, "The Medicine-Men of the Apache," Ninth Annual Report 
of the Bureau of Ethnology t p. 453. 

88 James Adair, History of the American Indians (London, 1775), pp. 158 f. ; 
J. Mooney, "Myths of the Cherokee," Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau 
of American Ethnology, Part I, 207. 



306 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

89 Francis La Flesche, in Thirty-sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of 
American Ethnology , p. 54. 

40 D. W. Harmon, A Journal of Voyages and Travels in the Interiour of 
North America (Andover, Mass., 1820), p. 297. A Maori prisoner taken in war 
was made tapu if his captor threw his garment over him ; "he who then touched 
the prisoner with a hostile intention touched also his preserver" (Richard Tay- 
lor, Te Ika A Maui [2d ed., London, 1870], p. 167). 

J. H. Williams, The Mountain That Was "God" (New York, 1911), p. 31. 

42 Spencer and Gillen, Northern Tribes of Central Australia, p. 498. 

* lidem, Native Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 130 ff. 

44 S. D. Porteus, The Psychology of a Primitive People (New York and 
London, 1931), pp. 35 f. 

45 E. W. P. Chinnery and W. N. Beaver, "Notes on the Initiation Cere- 
monies of the Koko, Papua," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 
XLV (1915), 71. 

46 F. E. Williams, Papuans of the Trans-Fly (Oxford, 1936), p. 183. 

47 Idem, Drama of Orokolo, pp. 224 ff. 

**Idem, "The 'Pairama' Ceremony in the Purari Delta, Papua," Journal 
of the Royal Anthropological Institute, LIII (1923), 362 f. On the concept of 
imunu see also J. H. Holmes, In Primitive New Guinea (London, 1914), pp. 
150 ff. 

49 Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians, p. 76, quoting H. Fellmann. 

50 Codrington, The Melanesians, p. 94. 

81 A. B. Deacon, Malekula, a Vanishing People in the New Hebrides (Lon- 
don, 1934), p. 440. 

82 A. B. Brewster, The Hill Tribes of Fiji (London, 1922), pp. 22 ff. 

58 Elsdon Best, The Maori as He Was (Wellington, New Zealand), pp. 53, 
67. 

64 Turner, Samoa, p. 62. 

55 A. C. Kruijt, Het animisme in den Indischen Archipel ('s Gravenhage, 
1906), pp. 205 f . 

68 C. J. F. S. Forbes, British Burma and Its People (London, 1878), p. 295. 

67 J. H. Hutton, The Angami Nagas (London, 1921), p. 407; idem, The 
Sema Nagas (London, 1921), pp. 174 f. 

w J. P. Mills, The Ao Nagas (London, 1926), p. 217 and note 1. 

89 Leo Sternberg, "The Inau Cult of the Ainu," Anthropological Papers 
Written in Honor of Franz Boas (New York, 1906), pp. 427, 434. One name for 
the inau is iwai-gi, iwai meaning "taboo" and gi (ki) meaning "wood" or "stick" 
(W. G. Aston, "The Japanese Gohei and the Ainu Inao," Journal of the Anthro- 
pological Institute, XXXI (1901), 134. 

<> W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas (London, 1906), pp. 424 ff. 

61 C. G. Seligman and Brenda Z. Seligman, The Veddas (Cambridge, 1911), 
pp. 137 ff. 

62 Charles New, Life, Wanderings, and Labours in Eastern Africa (Lon- 
don, 1873), pp. 112 f. According to Burton, only the elders of both sexes may 
look on this drum (Sir R. F. Burton, Zanzibar [London, 1872], II, 91. 

68 John Roscoe, The Baganda (London, 1911), p. 167. 

64 S. S. Farrow, Faith, Fancies, and Fetich, or Yoruba Paganism (London, 
1926), pp. 117 ff. 

68 A. R. Wallace, A Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro 



SACRED THINGS 307 

(London, 1853), pp. 348 .; cf. p. 501. According to Dr. Karsten it is a com- 
mon Indian idea that an evil spirit takes possession of a taboo-breaker and will 
kill such a person. Dying, the woman would become herself a demon and a 
source of grave danger to the community. She is put to death to anticipate such 
a contingency. "In this way we have, no doubt, to explain the custom, prevailing 
among many tribes, of killing women who have happened to see the masks, bull- 
roarers, or flutes used at the religious ceremonies." (Rafael Karsten, The Civ- 
ilization of the South American Indians [London, 1926], pp. 311 and note 3; 
cf. p. 429 and note 2). 

68 Theodor Koch-Griinberg, Zwei Jahre unter den Indianer (Berlin, 1910), 
II, 293. 

67 Morris Siegel, "Religion in Western Guatemala : a Product of Accul- 
turation," American Anthropologist (n.s., 1941), XLIII, 68, 75. 

68 Ruth L. Bunzel, "Introduction to Zuni Ceremonialism," Forty-seventh 
Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, pp. 479, 502. 

69 James Mooney, "Palladium," Handbook of American Indians (Part II), 
193 f . In 1868 the Kiowa had a disastrous encounter with the Ute. Among the 
spoils of victory were two of the three Kiowa taime, these being sacred images 
which were never exposed to view except at the annual Sun Dance. The Ute 
took the taime home, but soon regretted having done so. The son of their cap- 
turer lost his life in a fight with another tribe, and shortly afterward their 
custodian was killed by a stroke of lightning. So the Ute turned over these 
potent and dangerous objects to an American, who was not afraid to put them 
on view in his trading post (idem, "Calendar History of the Kiowa," Seven- 
teenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Part I, pp. 322 ff. 

70 Idem, "Myths of the Cherokee," Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bu- 
reau of American Ethnology, Part I, p. 462. 

71 J. O. Dorsey, in Third Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 235. 

72 Ibid., pp. 217, 224, 359. We are also told that the keeper who prepared 
the sacred pipes for the chiefs when deliberating had to be very careful not to 
drop either pipe. "Should this happen that meeting of the council would be at 
an end, and the life of the keeper would be in danger from the supernatural 
powers" (Alice C. Fletcher and Francis La Flesche, in Twenty-seventh Annual 
Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, p. 209. 

78 G. B. Grinnell, "Great Mysteries of the Cheyenne," American Anthro- 
pologist (n.s., 1910), XII, 562 f. The "great mysteries" are the medicine arrows 
and the sacred hat. 

74 Charles Hose and William McDougall, The Pagan Tribes of Borneo 
(London, 1912), II, 124 f. 

75 M. J. Field, Religion and Medicine of the Ga People (Oxford, 1937), 
pp. Ill f., 118f. The author tells of one woman, a trader, who had a medicine 
to protect her from cheats and thieves. The attached conditions demanded per- 
fect honesty on her part. On her death she left the medicine to her daughter, 
who was ignorant of the taboo attaching to it. One day, while trading in the 
market, the daughter stole a banana leaf to protect her head from the rain. 
Immediately one of her fingers became paralyzed and remained so. A medicine 
man diagnosed the case and said that the affliction was sent as a warning by the 
spirit, who would punish further offenses by death (p. 119). 

76 Codrington, Melanesians, pp. 178 f . 

77 J. [S.] Kubary, "Die Religion der Pelauer," in A. Bastian's Allerlei aus 
Volks-und Menschenkunde (Berlin, 1888), I, 38 f. 

78 W. Joest, in Verhandlungen der Berliner Gesellschaft fur Anthropologie, 



308 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Ethnologic, und Urgeschichte (1882), p. (62), (bound with Zeitschrift fur Eth- 
nologie, Vol. XIV). 

79 A. B. Ellis, The Ewe-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West 
Africa (London, 1890), pp. 57 ft. 

80 Basden, Niger Ibos, pp. 41, 158. 

81 See H. Webster, Rest Days (New York, 1916), pp. 85-100; idem, "Sab- 
bath (Primitive)," Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, X, 885-89; 
idem, "Holidays," Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, VII, 412-15. 

82 W. D. Alexander, A Brief History of the Hawaiian People (New York, 
1899), pp. 59 if.; David Malo, Hawaiian Antiquities (Honolulu, 1903), pp. 186- 
210. 

88 Turner, Samoa, pp. 29 f . 

8 */Wrf v p. 60. 

88 Sir Basil H. Thomson, The Fijians (London, 1908), p. 114. For an early 
account of this Lenten season see J. E. Erskine, Journal of a Cruise among the 
Islands of the Western Pacific (London, 1853), pp. 245 f . 

86 Brewster, Hill Tribes of Fiji, pp. 91 ff., from information supplied by a 
native chief. 

87 J. W. Breeks, An Account of the Primitive Tribes and Monuments of 
the Nilagiris (London, 1873), p. 44. 

88 F. Dehon, in Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1906), I, 144. 

89 C. K. Menon, "Some Agricultural Ceremonies in Malabar," Madras 
Government Museum Bulletin, V, 104 f. 

90 See Webster, Rest Days, pp. 106-18. Thomas states that "in the greater 
part of West Africa the rest day is a tabu period, entailing abstinence from 
the regular work, especially that of cultivating the fields, and devoted to the 
worship of the local gods, or some of them" (N. W. Thomas, "The Week 
in West Africa," Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, LIV [1924], 
192). 

91 A. E. Jenks, The Bontoc Igorot (Manila, 1905) (Department of the In- 
terior, Ethnological Survey Publications, Vol. I), pp. 205 ff. "It is safe to say 
that at least one feast is held daily in Bontoc by some family to appease or win 
the good will of some anito" [ancestral spirit] (p. 198). 

92 Ellis, The Yoruba-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa, 
pp. 107 f . ; idem, The Tshi-speaking Peoples of the Gold Coast of West Africa, 
pp. 227 f. 

98 See, in general, L. Levy-Bruhl, How Natives Think (London, 1926), 
pp. 181-223. 

94 I. H. N. Evans, "Notes on the Religious Beliefs, Superstitions, Cere- 
monies, and Tabus of the Dusuns," Journal of the Royal Anthropological In- 
stitute, XLII (1912), 394 f. 

95 J. S. Suas, "Le septieme jour aux Nouvelles Hebrides, Oceanic," An- 
thropos, VII (1912), 1057; cf. ibid., p. 50, note 1. 

9 A. M. Hocart, "The Seventh Day in Fiji/' Anthropos, IX (1914), 330. 
97 C. W. Hobley, Bantu Beliefs and Magic (London, 1922), pp. 125 f . 

96 Codrington, Melanesians, p. 86. 

99 J. A. Moerenhout, Voyages aux lies du Grand Ocean (Paris, 1837), I, 501. 

100 Hutton, Sema Nagas, pp. 216 f . 

101 R. S. Rattray, Ashanti (Oxford, 1923), p. 219. 



SACRED THINGS 309 

102 Mrs. Elsie C. Parsons, in Memoirs of the American Anthropological 
Association, IV, 285 f . 

108 F. Boas, "The Social Organization and the Secret Societies of the 
Kwakiutl Indians," Report of the US. National Museum for 1895, pp. 537 f . 

104 The Navaho Indians supply an instructive example of desacralization 
as applied to the representation of a ritual. "As is well known, the Navaho 
Indians have of late years taken to the weaving of sand painting blankets, that 
is to say, blankets in which the usual geometrical designs are replaced by more 
or less faithful copies of sand paintings belonging to the great curing cere- 
monies known as 'chants/ such as the Night Chant, the Mountain Chant, and 
the Shooting Chant. As the actual sand paintings of the rituals must be de- 
stroyed before nightfall of the day on which they are laid down in the cere- 
monial hogan and as, further, it is forbidden for the 'chanter' to keep a perma- 
nent record of the sand paintings which are part of his curing ritual, these sand 
painting blankets are, by definition, blasphemous doubly so, indeed, for to the 
wrong of preserving what should be a transitory moment of holiness is added 
that of an illegitimate transfer of the picturing of an episode in a ritualistic 
origin legend from a sacred context to a mundane article of sale. The older 
Navaho are said to be very much opposed to these blankets, but the demand of 
the white man appears to be more powerful than religious sentiment. 

"The weaver has a simple expedient for warding off the curse which fol- 
lows tampering with sacred things. By deliberately changing the sand painting 
design here and there she feels that she absolves herself from the charge of 
blasphemy. The blanket decoration looks like a genuine sand painting to the 
white man, but to the gods and instructed Navaho the departures from ritualistic 
accuracy put the woven blanket into the class of profane objects. No curse need 
follow the weaving at least, so it is hoped" (Edward Sapir, "A Navaho Sand 
Painting Blanket," American Anthropologist [n.s., 1935], XXXVII, 609). 

105 \Y E Bromilow, Twenty Years among Primitive Papuans (London, 
1929), pp. 85 f . 

106 M. Rascher, in Archiv fur Anthropologie (1904), XXIX, 216. 

107 Richard Thurnwald, Forschungen auf den Salomo-Inseln und dem Bis- 
marck-Archipel (Berlin, 1912), I, 430. Cf. W. G. Ivens, Melanesians of the 
South-East Solomon Islands (London, 1927), p. 10 (Mala and Ulawa). 

108 John Campbell, Travels in South Africa Second Journey (London, 

1822), II, 205. 

109 E. Torday, On the Trait of the Bushongo (London, 1925), p. 41. 

110 Henri Basset, Essai sur la literature des Berberes (Alger, 1920), 
pp. 104 f . 

111 W. Matthews, "The Mountain Chant ; a Navaho Ceremony," Fifth An- 
nual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 386. 

112 L. H. Morgan, League of the Ho-D6-No-Sau-Nee or Iroquois (edited 
by H. M. Lloyd) (New York, 1904), I, 162. According to the editor's note 
(II, 255), the Iroquois believed that in summer the spirits of nature were awake 
and listening ; in winter they hibernated like so many bears. For further illus- 
trations see Frank Russell, in Twenty-sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of 
American Ethnology, p. 206 (Pima) ; J. O. Dorsey, in Journal of American 
Folk-Lore, II (1889), 190 (Omaha) ; Fanny D. Bergen, ibid., IX (1896), 54 
(Winnebago) ; A. F. Chamberlain, ibid., IV (1891), 195 (Ottawa and Chippewa 
of Michigan) ; G. A. Dorsey, Traditions of the Skidi Pawnee (Boston, 1904), 
p. xxii; R. H. Lowie, The Crow Indians (New York, 1935), p. 107. The Taos 
Indians have a taboo or quasi taboo against telling tales in summer lest there 
be an untimely snowstorm. "But," added the native informant, "I do not believe 
it" (Mrs. Elsie C Parsons, Taos Tales [New York, 1940], p. 1). 



310 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

118 See Sir J. G. Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of the Soul (London, 1911) 
(The Golden Bough, 3d cd., Part II), pp. 374-86. 

114 S. Ella, "Dialect Changes in the Polynesian Languages/' Journal of the 
Anthropological Institute, XXIX (1899), 154 f. 

115 Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians, p. 280. 

118 J. S. Polack, Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders (London, 
1840), II, 126 f. 

117 J. T. Last, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXV (1896), 
66. See, further, J. Sibree, "Curious Words and Customs Connected with Chief- 
tainship and Royalty among the Malagasy," ibid., XXI (1891), 226 ff. 

118 James Macdonald, ibid., XX (1891), 131. See also Miss Alice Werner, 
"The Custom of 'Hlonipa' in Its Influence on Language," Journal of the African 
Society, No. 15, pp. 346-56. 

119 Ellis, The Ewe-speaking Peoples of the Sleeve Coast of West Africa, 
pp.98f. 

o A. W. Howitt, "On Some Australian Beliefs," Journal of the Anthro- 
pological Institute, XIII (1884), 192 f.; idem, The Native Tribes of South-East 
Australia (London, 1904), p. 495. 

121 A. C. Haddon, Head-Hunters, Black, White, and Brown (London, 
1901), p. 46. 

2 Emil Holub, Seven Years in South Africa (London, 1881), II, 301. 

128 H. M. Chittenden and A. T. Richardson, Life, Letters, and Travels of 
Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, SJ. (New York, 1905), III, 1074. According to 
J. O. Dorsey the Omaha "are very careful not to use names which they regard 
as sacred on ordinary occasions; and no one dares to sing sacred songs except 
the chiefs and old men at the proper times" (Third Annual Report of the Bu- 
reau of Ethnology, p. 370). 

124 C. G. Swan, in Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Vol. XVI, 
No. 220, p. 61. 

125 See J. A. MacCulloch, "Euphemism," Hastings' Encyclopedia of Re- 
ligion and Ethics, V, 585-88; Frazer, Taboo and the Perils of the Soul, pp. 392 ff. 

128 H. F. Standing, "Malagasy 'Fady/ " Antananarivo Annual and Mada- 
gascar Magazine, No. 7 (1883), pp. 73 f. 

127 See Frazer, op. cit., pp. 405 ff. 

128 S. Ella, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXIX (1899), 155. 
According to Robert Louis Stevenson "special words are set apart for [a chief's] 
leg, his face, his hair, his belly, his eyelids, his son, his daughter, his wife, his 
wife's pregnancy, his wife's adultery, adultery with his wife, his dwelling, his 
spear, his comb, his sleep, his dreams, his anger, the mutual anger of several 
chiefs, his food, his pleasure in eating, the food and eating of his pigeons, his 
ulcers, his cough, his sickness, his recovery, his death, his being carried on a 
bier, the exhumation of his bones, and his skull after death" (A Foot-Note to 
History, chap. i). 

120 w. W. Skeat and C. O. Blagden, Pagan Races of the Malay Peninsula 
(London, 1906), II, 414-25. 

180 Seligman and Seligman, The Veddas, pp. 274 f ., quoting Mr. Henry 
Parker. 

181 Rivers, The Todas, pp. 615 f. 



CHAPTER IX 
SIN AND RITUAL DEFILEMENT 



PUBLIC confession, the "speaking out" of sins committed, is a 
rite found in Melanesia, Polynesia, Indonesia, many parts of 
Africa, America (South, Central, and North), and in the Arctic 
area among the Eskimo and Siberian tribes. The rite has a reg- 
ular association with other ceremonies whereby sins are removed 
and their effects neutralized or destroyed. It is practiced especially 
in cases of sickness, for to the savage sickness is sin or the result 
of sin. The majority of the sins confessed are sexual, adultery 
most of all. There can be no doubt that for primitive thought 
confession acts as a real purgation, an elimination of evil matter 
in the patient's body. As such it is comparable to the cathartics, 
emetics, and other purges so often employed for the same purpose. 
Confession has further efficacy because of the power attributed to 
the spoken word: naming the sin is to recall it, to give it form 
and substance, so that the officiating medicine man can deal with 
it in the prescribed manner. No vague announcement of sinful- 
ness suffices ; each sin that has been committed must be specified. 
Sometimes when the patient can think of nothing serious done by 
him he will confess imaginary sins. If the sin is taboo-breaking, 
an act which may endanger the community as well as the sinner, 
public confession of it serves as a notice to others to avoid him 
until his purification has been accomplished. Like the leper he has 
uttered the warning cry, "Unclean, unclean I" 1 

The Manus of the Admiralty Islands, north of New Guinea, 
require confession after any violation of their sex code. Adultery 
and fornication, in particular, are regarded as more or less dan- 
gerous to the participants or to their relatives. However, confes- 
sion of a sexual sin wipes it out. It is the concealed sin only which 
excites the ire of the spirits. If you confess what you have done 
and then pay a fine to the mortal representatives of the avenging 
spirits, you or your relatives will escape all evil consequences. It is 
said that a man will describe an amour in the most matter-of-fact 
language, giving the name of the woman, the place, and the time, 

311 



312 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

and stating that later his brother became ill. But, he will add, he 
confessed the sin and paid for it, so his brother promptly recovered. 
"To the sinner who steadfastly refuses confession the community 
turns a cold, distrustful face. To make an alliance with such a 
one is courting death." 2 

In Samoa the priest might require the members of the family 
of a sick person to assemble about his bed and confess their sins. 
Each one confessed everything that he or she had ever done at 
any time and however long concealed whether theft, adultery, 
seduction, lying, or invoking a curse upon the sick person. 3 A 
Maori, when lying ill, was called upon by the attendant priest to 
confess all his peccadilloes, as well as more serious offenses against 
the moral and religious laws. Having confessed and received ab- 
solution from the priest, he was considered to be in a condition 
of "moral and spiritual purity" which fitted him to undergo fur- 
ther ritual performances designed to bring about his recovery. 4 
At Fakaafo, one of the Union Islands, the friends of a man who 
had died tried to learn the cause of his death. They went to a 
priest, who summoned the spirit of the departed and asked him 
to confess all the offenses which had brought him to an untimely 
end. The spirit, speaking through the priest, would acknowledge 
that he had stolen coconuts from such and such a place, or had 
fished in some forbidden spot, or had eaten the fish in which his 
family god was incarnated. 5 

In the Mentawei Islands, when the head of a family falls sick, 
the doctor urges him to make a clean breast of all the wrongful 
acts he has done. "Tell everything to me, be sure to conceal 
nothing." The father then proceeds to confess any violation of 
taboos by himself or a member of his household, after which the 
cure of the sick man is undertaken. From time to time the doctors 
impose new taboos upon their patients. A doctor frankly ac- 
knowledged that this practice accounted for the innumerable re- 
strictions observed by the Mentawei people. 6 

Among the Mkulwe of Tanganyika Colony, when a man is 
severely ill, all the adult members of his kinship group assemble 
and proceed to confess, fully and sincerely, whatever sins (such as 
adultery, falsehood, or theft) each one may have committed. Then 
the person confessing casts toward the west splinters of wood and 
bits of straw, to be carried away by the wind even as his sins 
are now gotten rid of, never to return. If the sick man gets bet- 
ter, his recovery is attributed to the efficacy of the confession; 
otherwise, a doctor must consult the spirits in order to discover 



SIN AND RITUAL DEFILEMENT 313 

who is concealing some of his sins and thus is hindering the re- 
covery of the patient. 7 

The state of taboo which the Akikuyu of Kenya describe as 
thahu is called thabu or makwa by their neighbors, the Akamba. 
A person in this condition gets sores all over his body. Before the 
elders can cure the disease they must first diagnose its cause by 
questioning the sufferer about all that he has done ; open confes- 
sion is thus essential. "This fact gives a great value to the belief 
in makiva, for however secretly a breach of custom may have been 
committed, it will not fail to require an open confession." The 
disease is invariably venereal and is now often cured by medical 
missionaries, to whom even the Akikuyu flock for treatment. "The 
practical result of this may be good, but indirectly it is bad, be- 
cause the public confession is evaded, and the moral restraint of 
the belief is in consequence destroyed." 8 

Among the Baganda a child would contract a sickness, char- 
acterized by nausea and general debility, if the mother had com- 
mitted adultery either before its birth or while she nursed it. No 
cure was possible unless the guilty parties confessed their guilt 
and underwent, at the hands of the medicine man, a special cere- 
mony of cleansing. 9 No Baganda woman might visit a well while 
she was menstruating; if she did so, the water would dry up. She 
herself would fall sick and die, unless she confessed her fault and 
the medicine man made atonement for her. 10 

Certain tribes of Togoland on the Slave Coast, who regard 
marriage within the same totemic group as incestuous, believe 
that it will cause a drought. A woman guilty of it is led first to 
the market and then to some of the temples and is there required 
publicly to confess the wrong which she has committed. 11 

Some Indian tribes of western South America are familiar 
with the practice of confession. The Aurohuaca of Colombia ob- 
ject to taking medicine, for they believe that all sickness is a pun- 
ishment for sin. When a man falls ill, he sends for a mama, the 
village priest, governor, and doctor. To him the patient makes 
a secret and full confession. After hearing it, the mama must de- 
cide whether the sins confessed are mortal or whether they can be 
forgiven and the patient restored to health. This is a somewhat 
ticklish matter, since the sick man, if told that he must die because 
of his sins, usually proceeds to do so without delay. However, if 
the mama makes a favorable diagnosis, he proceeds to transfer 
the patient's sins to some bits of stone or shell, which are taken up 
in the mountains and laid where the first beams of the morning 



314 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

sun will strike down on them and drive out the evil in them. 12 
Similarly, among the Ijca, another Colombian tribe, the medicine 
man insists on confession by a sufferer, in order to find out why 
the spirits are angry with him and have made him ill. 18 In these 
instances the sins confessed are probably violations of taboos, 
though we are not expressly informed that such is the case. 

It was customary among the Indians of Guatemala for a 
woman in labor to be ordered by the midwife to confess her sins, 
in order to expedite delivery of the child. In a case of difficult 
birth, the husband was required to confess his sins as well. 14 

The Huichol Indians require the strictest continence on the 
part of the men engaged in gathering the sacred cactus, the hikuli, 
which brings health and good luck to the tribe. While away from 
home, they must commit no transgressions and they must also 
purge themselves from past sins which they have committed. For 
every sin they tie a knot in a string, and then each one delivers 
this "rosary" to the leader of the expedition, who burns it. Mean- 
while, the women left behind have confessed to Grandfather Fire 
with what men they have ever been in love. Not one must be 
omitted from the catalogue of lovers, for such an omission would 
mean that those away on the expedition would be unable to find 
even a single cactus plant. Each woman, in order to refresh her 
memory, prepares a string, made out of strips of palm leaves, 
and on this she ties as many knots as she has had lovers. The 
knotted string she brings to the temple, and, standing before 
the fire, she names all the men for whom there are knots on the 
string. This done, she throws it into the fire, and when the god 
has consumed it in his pure flame, all her sins are forgotten and 
she becomes clean. 15 

Carrier Indians, when seriously ill, believe that they will not 
recover unless they divulge to a medicine man every wrongful 
deed which they may have ever committed and have hitherto kept 
secret. This done, "they expect that their lives will be spared for 
a time longer." 16 

The Central Eskimo of Baffin Land and Hudson Bay possess 
an elaborate system of taboos associated with their lives as hunt- 
ers of seals, ground seals, and whales. Violations of the taboos 
are punished by the goddess Sedna, their chief deity. When one 
of the sea animals has been killed, its soul remains with the body 
for three days before going back to Sedna's underworld abode, 
to be sent forth again by her. If during the three days any taboo 
or prescribed custom is broken, the resulting uncleanness attaches 



SIN AND RITUAL DEFILEMENT 315 

itself to the animal's soul and is conveyed to Sedna. It makes her 
hands sore, and she punishes the people who have caused her pains 
by sending to them sickness, bad weather, and starvation. The 
souls of the sea animals possess greater percipience than those 
of ordinary human beings. They can see how contact with a corpse 
causes objects touched by it to appear black in color; they can 
also see how flowing human blood produces a vapor which sur- 
rounds the bleeding person and everyone and everything that 
comes into contact with such a person. The dark color of death 
and the vapor of blood are exceedingly distasteful to the souls of 
the sea animals. No hunter thus affected would have any luck, 
for the animals could not come near him. He will therefore avoid 
having anything to do with a person who has touched a dead body 
or with one who is bleeding, particularly a menstruous woman or 
a woman who has recently given birth or has had a miscarriage. 
To prevent an accident of this sort, persons in such a state of un- 
cleanness must make public announcement of the fact; if they do 
not do so, all the hunters will have ill luck. These ideas have given 
rise to the belief that the transgression of any taboo must be so 
announced, or otherwise the community will suffer for the acts of 
the evildoer. There are innumerable tales of starvation brought 
about by taboo-breaking which was not confessed and thus atoned 
for. In vain the hunters try to supply their families with food; 
gales and drifting snow make their efforts useless. Finally the 
help of the shaman is invoked, and he discovers that the misfor- 
tune of the people is the fault of one of their number. The guilty 
party is searched out; "if he confesses, all is well; the weather 
moderates, and the seals allow themselves to be caught; but if he 
obstinately maintains his innocence, his death alone will soothe 
the wrath of the offended deity." 17 

In the lower stages of culture the idea of sin does not imply 
a breach of the divine order or call for true repentance and re- 
generation of the inner man. It is a violation of a tribal custom, 
in particular, of a taboo. That the sin was one of omission rather 
than of commission, that it was nonintentional instead of inten- 
tional, is quite irrelevant: evil of some sort has been done and 
must be dealt with by some means or other. 18 

The people of Dobu, an island of the D'Entrecasteaux group, 
have no word for sin ; they have not needed one. The only acts 
which the natives consider wrongful are removing a neighbor's 
landmark and stealing from the garden of a member of one's own 
tribe or of a friendly tribe. For either of these actions an offender 



316 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

might be speared by the aggrieved party. His friends would make 
no attempt to avenge his death, because he had made himself an 
outcast from the community. But, for the rest, "the good people 
are the healthy, the wealthy in property and food, the wise in sor- 
cery ; the bad people are the poor, the weak, the aged, the sickly." 19 
"Sin to the Maori/' says an excellent authority, "was invariably 
connected with some infringement of tapu." 20 To much the same 
effect a missionary among the Battak of Sumatra declares that 
.for them "sin is simply what offends the customs which all ob- 
serve." 21 

An anthropologist, working among the Andamanese, did not 
meet a single native who believed that such actions as the murder 
of one man by another or adultery, aroused the anger of Puluga. 
The only actions at which Puluga is angry are purely ritual of- 
fenses, such as burning or melting wax, killing a cicada, and dig- 
ging up yams. 22 

For the Malagasy the distinction of "pure" and "impure" is 
fundamental ; it underlies all the religious life of the people. But 
the purity necessary for entering into relations with the higher 
powers and for retaining their good will is "wholly exterior" in 
character, "wholly material" in content. 28 

Among the Basuto the words "happiness" and "purity" are 
synonymous. When a native says that his heart is "black" or 
"dirty," he may equally mean that his heart is "impure" or "un- 
happy," and when he says that his heart is "white" or "clean," it 
is only from his explanation that we know whether he means that 
he is "pure" or "joyous." "As in their worship the creature has 
taken the place of the Creator, so unhappiness, the effect of sin, 
has caused them to lose sight of sin itself, and now suffering and 
accidents of all kinds to which humanity is liable are considered 
a defilement, and are called by that name." 24 Among the Zulu, 
the word applied to a dirty person "means that you have done 
or said something or somebody else has done so, which has be- 
spattered you with metaphorical dirt in the Scriptural sense, has 
defiled you. It is nearly the same as our expression 'his hands are 
not clean/ but only it is stronger." 25 The Bechuana refer to the 
ritual defilement which results from contact with anything taboo 
as leshwe, this being their common word for "dirt." To remove 
the defilement is "to wash the body." They also employ a number 
of special terms descriptive of particular methods of purification 
such as anointing, lustration, and fumigation. After ceremonial 
rehabilitation the patient is described as being "clean," "clear," 



SIN AND RITUAL DEFILEMENT 317 

or "pure." He is now freed from "all the terrors of contagion, 
ostracism, penance, and occult retribution" which oppress the mind 
of a taboo-breaker. 26 

To appreciate the position occupied by taboo in the life of the 
Ba-ila is not easy for "one trained in the Christian morality." The 
things summed up in their word tonda "include not only prohibi- 
tions due to a vague instinctive repulsion from deeds which the 
highest ethical consciousness recognizes as wrong, but also others 
which to advanced thought have no moral significance. To our 
minds there is a world of difference between theft and, say, eating 
a quail ; but it is a sign of the weakness of their ethical discrimi- 
nation that a breach of what we should call the 'ceremonial law* 
is rated a greater offence than a breach of the 'moral law/ We 
have constantly had proof of their inability to recognise the dis- 
tinctive nature of morality, i.e., as recognised by ourselves." The 
authors tell of an unusually intelligent native who complained 
that a woman had entered his house and stolen some of his things. 
The woman, previously, had aborted and hence was in a state of 
uncleanness when she committed the theft. The native might have 
forgiven the theft, but her ritual offense could be expiated only 
by the payment of a heavy fine. 27 

The Akikuyu have a moral code, but impurity is incurred, not 
by its transgression, but as the result of certain acts or accidents, 
some of them inevitable in the ordinary course of nature. When 
defilement has taken place, purification is necessary. For grave 
cases the services of a medicine man are required. The sufferer 
is subjected to an elaborate ceremony of cleansing, after which he 
is told to "vomit the sin," that is, to expectorate. This is done for 
all ritual disabilities which incur defilement. 28 With reference to 
the Wachagga, we are told that "a sin, wrongdoing, or breach of 
custom is not merely a matter demanding punishment or redress, 
but it imparts a bane or evil influence which remains unless the 
necessary purification follows. The point to be emphasized is 
that this mysterious force affects, not the evil-doer, but the person 
injured, so that it is he who must be purified. For instance, a 
man who is wounded is purified by the one who wounded him." 29 

The Ovimbundu of Angola have many high standards of 
conduct, but no idea of sin as being a violation of a command laid 
down by some authority which is more than human. The idea 
of crime is well developed among them, and there are many actions 
which are punishable as being in contravention to the laws of the 
tribe. Thus, adultery is a crime on a par with theft, but it is not 



318 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

a sin. Suku, the Supreme Being, issues no commands, while an- 
cestral spirits are concerned only with sacrifices and homage paid 
to them. 80 For the Bushongo the breaking of a taboo "is not a 
sin against God ; it is a foolhardy act against the laws of nature, 
like overeating, or taking poison, and the punishment is generally 
sterility." 81 Among the Fan of French Equatorial Africa he who 
violates a taboo (eki) contracts a "stain" called nsem. This term 
is now used by the missionaries to explain the theological con- 
ception of "sin." 32 The taboos observed by the tribes of Southern 
Nigeria embrace "everything" which can be considered as sins. 
With them the consciousness of having sinned "is not an abstract 
sentiment but a feeling that they have personally offended the 
gods and ancestors who have shown them the right way and who 
send all their blessings and good fortune." 83 

According to Miss Kingsley the West African peoples make a 
clear distinction between a sin and a crime between "god pa- 
laver" and "man palaver." The first is an offense against a spirit ; 
the second is an offense against society. The group punishes a 
crime without the assistance of spirits, though one of them may 
be called on to aid in its detection or prevention. If the offense is 
against a great spirit, who would retaliate on the whole com- 
munity, the offender is killed by the tribe or family on whom 
vengeance would otherwise fall; if only a minor spirit has been 
offended, the culprit is left to settle with it on his own account. 84 

With reference to the Siouan tribes of North America, a mis- 
sionary who knew them well declares that "the Scriptural idea of 
sin" seemed to be wanting among them. They believed, however, 
that to break the taboo of any gens or subgens, or to violate any 
other ancient custom, was to commit a dangerous act. 85 

When an Atka of the Aleutian Islands had been guilty of 
sodomy or of too early cohabitation with a betrothed or intended 
wife, he could rid himself of the taint which he had acquired by 
a simple act of purification. Having selected a time when the 
sun shone brightly, he picked up certain weeds, carried them about 
for a while, in order that they might absorb the sin, and then laid 
them down. Next he called upon the sun to witness that he had 
thus cast away all wickedness from his person. Finally, he threw 
the grass into a fire, and after doing so he considered himself 
"cleansed of his sins." 86 

It is a great moment in the development of humanity when 
the meaning of cleanliness has passed from the external and phys- 
ical to the internal and spiritual, when, instead of a bodily purga- 



SIN AND RITUAL DEFILEMENT 319 

tion, the conscience is cleansed from the sense of guilt. But this 
moment has arrived only in the higher stages of culture ; sin, as 
we conceive it, is a "late intruder" into the domain of religion 
and ethics. It remained for the Nazarene to summarize in a single 
sentence the whole religious and ethical development : "That which 
prSceedeth out of the man, that defileth the man." 



NOTES TO CHAPTER IX 

1 See, in general, Raffaele Pettazzoni, La confession* dei peccati (3 vols., 
Bologna, 1929-1936). 

2 Margaret Mead, Growing Up in New Guinea (New York, 1930), pp. 167 f. 
A high infant mortality, coupled with numerous deaths in middle age, serves to 
focus the attention of the Manus on their sins. Even a slight indisposition re- 
quires confession and a propitiatory payment to the spirits. "Hardly a night 
passes that the medium's whistle is not heard in some house where there is ill- 
ness" (p. 326). Elsewhere Miss Mead mentions the fact that as between the 
Roman Catholic and Methodist missions the Manus prefer the former, which 
exact no tithes. They have heard, also, of the Catholic auricular confession and 
welcome it as a relief from their present custom; whereby one's sins are loudly 
proclaimed to one's neighbors (pp. 317 f.). 

8 W. T. Pritchard, Polynesian Reminiscences (London, 1866), p. 147. We 
are told that if a canoe was overtaken by a storm or driven out of its course by 
adverse winds, the crew, "like that of the Phoenician vessel in which Jonah 
was escaping/' would demand that each one should confess any misdeeds which 
might have brought them into their present danger. Some "startling revela- 
tions" were made on these occasions (S. Ella, in Report of the Fourth Meeting 
of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science [1892], p. 639). 

4 Elsdon Best, "Maori Religion and Mythology," Dominion Museum Bul- 
letin, No. 10, pp. 198 f . 

5 George Turner, Samoa (London, 1884), p. 272. 

6 E. M. Loeb, in American Anthropologist (n.s., 1929), XXXI, 72. 
* A. Hamberger, in Anthropos f IV (1909), 309 ff. 

8 C. Dundas, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, XLV 
(1915), 242 f. 

John Roscoe, The Baganda (London, 1911), p. 102. The medicine man 
added some of the woman's urine to other medicines and then rubbed the mix- 
ture on the woman's chest and on the chests of her children ; "this was supposed 
to neutralize an evil that had attached itself to her or to them" (p. 72). 

Ibid., p. 459. 

" F. Wolf, in Anthropos, VI (1911), 456. 

12 F. C. Nicholas, in American Anthropologist (n.s., 1901), III, 639 f. 

18 G. Bolinder, Die Indianer der tropischen Schneegebirge (Stuttgart, 1925), 
pp. 139 f . 

14 A. de Herrera, The General History of the Vast Continent and Islands 
of America (London, 1725-1726), IV, 148 (Decade III, Bk. VI, chap. ii). 

"Carl Lumholtz, Unknown Mexico (New York, 1903), II, 129 f. 

16 D. W. Harmon, A Journal of Voyages and Travels in the Interiour of 
North America (Andover, Mass., 1820), p. 300. 



320 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

17 F. Boas, in Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, XV, 
119 ff. Among these Eskimo the shaman does his best to discover the reason 
why sickness or any other misfortune has come to the natives. He questions 
the sufferer persistently, and the latter believes that he must return true answers. 
The shaman asks, "Did you work when it was forbidden?" "Did you eat when 
you were not allowed to eat?" If the poor fellow happens to remember any 
such transgression, he replies, "Yes, I have worked." "I have eaten." The 
shaman replies, "I thought so," and issues his commands as to the manner 
whereby atonement shall be made (idem, in Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau 
of Ethnology, pp. 592 f .). 

18 See L. H. Gray, "Expiation and Atonement (Introductory and Primi- 
tive)," Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, V, 635 f.; "Nathan 
Soderblom, "Holiness (General and Primitive)," ibid., VI, 731-44. 

19 W. E. Bromilow, Twenty Years among Primitive Papuans (London, 
1929), p. 298. 

20 E. Best, "Maori Eschatology," Transactions and Proceedings of the New 
Zealand Institute, 1905, XXXVIII, 156. 

21 Johannes Warneck, The Living Forces of the Gospel (Edinburgh, 1909), 
p. 127. 

22 A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, The Andaman Islanders (Cambridge, 1933), 
p. 160. Puluga or Biliku is a mythical being commonly regarded as female but 
also spoken of sometimes as male, and especially associated with the northeast 
monsoon. The only punishment which Puluga or Biliku ever inflicts on human 
beings, when she (or he) is angry with them for any reason, is to send violent 
storms (pp. 147, 156). See also E. H. Man, in Journal of the Anthropological 
Institute, XII (1883), 112. 

23 A. and G. Grandidier, "De la religion des Malgaches," L'Anthropologie, 
XXXVIII (1917), 248. 

2 * E. Casalis, The Basutos (London, 1861), p. 255. 

25 David Leslie, Among the Zulus and Amatongas (2d ed., Edinburgh, 1875), 
pp. 169 f. 

26 W. C. Willoughby, Nature-Worship and Taboo (Hartford, Conn., 1932), 
pp. 197, 200. 

27 E. W. Smith and A. M. Dale, The Ila-speaking Peoples of Northern 
Rhodesia (London, 1920), I, 348. 

2 W. S. Routledge and Katherine Routledge, With a Prehistoric People 
(London, 1910), pp. 256 ff. The name of this feigned vomiting is potahikio, de- 
rived from tahika, "to vomit" (F. P. Cayzac, in Anthropos, V [1910], 311). A 
Kikuyu falls ill. He tries the usual empirical methods of treatment. They fail, 
and he then summons a doctor to take charge of the case. The doctor declares 
that some enemy has induced evil spirits to enter the patient's body. These 
must be expelled. A small hole is dug and into it water is poured and certain 
powders are emptied. The doctor dips in two small horns, two goat's feet, and 
finally the bowels of a slaughtered goat. The mess is given to the patient to 
suck. The whole operation is carried on to the accompaniment of much cursing 
of the evil spirits and of commands to the sick man to vomit them forth. He 
makes every effort to do so. Our authority in one place calls this the ceremony 
of "sin- vomiting" ; in another place he describes it as the "vomiting of evil 
spirits" (C. Cagnolo, The Akikuyu [Nyeri, Kenya, 1933], pp. 134, 189). After 
a performance of the Snake Dance by the Hopi Indians of Arizona the partici- 
pants drink a decoction made from herbs. It acts as an emetic, and the vomiting 
is supposed to cleanse the body spiritually as well as physically (A. Hrdlicka, in 
Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 34, pp. 240 f.). In this case 



SIN AND RITUAL DEFILEMENT 321, 

it is not pollution which is got rid of, but the dangerous sanctity acquired by the 
dancers through the performance of the rite. Among the Haida of British 
Columbia a man could increase his physical strength or obtain property, success 
in hunting, fishing, and fighting, and other good things by a rigid restraint in his 
diet, by continence, by sea-bathing, and by taking sweat-baths. Another excel- 
lent device was to drink warmed sea-water followed by a draught of fresh 
water ; the emetic ejected all the contents of his stomach, "leaving him so much 
the 'cleaner' " (J. R. Swanton, in Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural 
History, VIII, 40). A pioneer missionary in the South Seas describes the cere- 
mony by which the sons of a Samoan chief (who had accepted Christianity) 
themselves formally threw off their old heathen ways. This was done by the 
public eating of the species of fish tabooed to them. But it was done with fear 
and trembling, for the young men believed that the spirit residing in the fish 
might gnaw their vitals and cause their death. They immediately retired from 
the feast and swallowed a copious draught of coconut oil and sea- water, "which 
was certainly a most effectual method of preventing such an evil" (John Wil- 
liams, A Narrative of Missionary Enterprises in the South Sea Islands, London, 
.1838, p. 373). 

29 Charles Dundas, Kilimanjaro and Its People (London, 1924), p. 155. 

8 W. D. Hambly, The Ovimbundu of Angola (Chicago, 1934), pp. 264 f . 

81 E. Torday, On the Trail of the Bushongo (London, 1925), p. 195. "Bad 
actions were not punished by God ; their opposition to the laws of nature caused 
automatically, without divine interference, some unpleasant reaction. Thus, if 
the firstfruits were not presented to the ancestors it was the soil, deprived of 
the strength that had its source in this pious action, which would not bring 
forth the crops ; it would remain barren as if no seeds had been sown. If a man 
broke the laws forbidding the marrying within his own clan, it was the blood 
of the clan in him that suffered from the pollution and made him suffer in his 
turn" (pp. 236 f.). 

82 L. Martrou, "Les 4 Eki' des Fang," Anthropos t I (1906), 759. 

88 P. A. Talbot, The Peoples of Southern Nigeria (Oxford, 1926), III, 709. 

84 Mary H. Kingsley, West African Studies (2d ed., London, 1901), 
pp. 413 f. Elsewhere Miss Kingsley declares that to a native sin "is not what it 
is to us, a vile treason against a loving Father, but a very ill-advised act against 
powerful, nasty-tempered spirits" (p. 135). 

85 J. O. Dorsey, "A Study of Siouan Cults," Eleventh Annual Report of the 
Bureau of Ethnology, p. 521. 

36 Ivan Petroff, Report on the Population, Industries, and Resources of 
Alaska (Washington, D.C., 1884) (Department of the Interior, Tenth Census, 
Vol. VIII), p. 158. Petroff is quoting from the Russian priest Innocentius Venia- 
minoff, who worked among the natives of the Aleutian Islands and at Sitka 
during the early years of the nineteenth century. 



CHAPTER X 
ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 



THE savage, who invests his sexual life with a multitude of nega- 
tive regulations, likewise observes innumerable restrictions in the 
food quest, in the preparation and eating of food, and in the 
choice of what should and should not be consumed as food. Some 
restrictions have a general application; some affect the male or 
the female sex; some are confined to the younger members of the 
community; some refer to a particular group such as a totemic 
clan or a secret society ; and some attach to chiefs, magicians, and 
priests, or to private persons. It is scarcely surprising that the 
savage should pay so much attention to his diet, for alimentation 
is even more essential than reproduction, hunger more urgent 
than sex-love, self -maintenance more necessary than self -per- 
petuation. 1 

Some food restrictions are based on a simple association of 
ideas by similarity or contiguity, such as the avoidance of the 
timi3 deer and hare, or the avoidance (by men) of all female 
animals, or the avoidance (by unmarried women) of the flesh 
of a male animal. Other restrictions rank as true taboos and 
depend on the pollution or sanctity ascribed to certain animals or 
plants. The apparent irrationality of the taboos is due to our 
ignorance of their history. No doubt dreams, visions, mishaps, 
and coincidental experiences give rise to many of them, or con- 
firm them when once originated, as is the case with other primitive 
beliefs and customs. 2 

We have seen that among primitive peoples the world over 
boys and girls at puberty or while undergoing a formal initiation 
into manhood and womanhood are subjected to numberless re- 
strictions, which include those of certain articles of food. Among 
the Australian aborigines the food taboos imposed on novices 
usually form part of a wider scheme of similar regulations affect- 
ing both young men and young women and only gradually re- 
laxed as they grow older. 8 

In the Euahlayi tribe of New South Wales the taboos on dif- 

322 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 323 

ferent kinds of food, which were imposed on boys, were removed* 
one taboo at a time, by their attendance at successive initiation 
ceremonies, until, finally, they could eat what they pleased. 4 In 
the Warramunga tribe of Central Australia men are usually well 
on in middle age before being allowed to eat such things as wild 
turkey, rabbit-bandicoot, and emu. Only men who are really very 
old and whose "hair is turning white" may eat everything. Not 
only are the young men debarred from eating various dainties, but 
they are also required to bring in supplies of these for their elders. 5 
In the Kaitish tribe the restrictions laid on young women are more 
numerous than those laid on young men, and for an infraction of 
each one a definite punishment is indicated. 6 

Some of our best authorities on the Australian aborigines are 
persuaded that the primary object of these prohibitions is to secure 
an abundant and superior supply of food for the elders, with the 
inculcation of discipline and habits of strict obedience on the part 
of the young men and women as a secondary though not unim- 
portant object. 7 It may well be true, however, that in many cases 
the food restrictions affecting younger members of a tribe were 
not at first primarily designed to contribute to the material wel- 
fare of the elders. Nevertheless, this motive would tend to be- 
come uppermost in a community where the old men rule and the 
young people have such implicit belief in the terrible consequences 
of any infraction of their regulations. An acute and original 
thinker, the late Ernest Crawley, suggested that just as food was 
doubtless the first form of property so the first human laws were 
these food restrictions imposed and maintained by the tribal 
authorities. 

A general but by no means universal rule requires the mem- 
bers of a totemic clan to abstain from eating the particular plant 
or animal associated with them. This may be freely eaten, how- 
ever, by members of other clans. If the totem is a plant, it will 
not be gathered by the clansmen; if it is an animal, it will not be 
killed by them. Sometimes they may not touch it, or look at it, 
or speak of it by its proper name, but must use descriptive epi- 
thets instead. These prohibitions are taboos, and the penalties 
for their violation are such as characterize other taboos. 

Where totemic taboos are found among hunting and fishing 
tribes, for instance, the Australian aborigines, their practical effect 
is to preserve the supply of a particular kind of food by diminish- 
ing the number of persons in search of it. "Supposing for ex- 
ample, that ten men go out into the bush in quest of food. Every 



324 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

pian of the party will take care that he does not injure his own 
totem during the day's rambles. If one assumes that each hunter 
has a different totem, then each man will allow a certain object 
to go free ; or in other words, ten different animals or plants will 
not be molested. But in such an expedition there would generally 
be groups of men belonging to the same totem. For example, 
there might be three kangaroo men, two iguana men, one porcu- 
pine man, and four yam men. Then three of the party would not 
harm a kangaroo under any circumstances, two would allow 
iguanas to escape, one would not interfere with a porcupine, and 
four would not gather yams. Let us suppose that a mob of kan- 
garoos be encountered, then our hunting party, instead of number- 
ing ten men, really consists of only seven. If iguanas are met 
with, the hunters comprise but eight men. And if they come to a 
fertile patch of ground, only six yam-diggers are available." Thus 
some specific animal or plant is left unharmed by each member 
of the tribe, whether male or female. 8 

An elaborate system of food taboos has been discovered among 
some Queensland tribes. The social groups observing these re- 
strictions are not totemic clans; they are the four exogamous 
subclasses (moieties) into which the tribe is divided. While the 
ordinary totemic clan has only one tabooed food, whether plant or 
animal, each subclass has several or even many articles of diet 
from which its members must abstain. The taboos are imposed 
on boys and girls at the arrival of puberty, that is, when they have 
passed through the first initiation ceremony. Apparently, only 
animal food is prohibited; no plants, trees, shrubs, or grasses 
come under an interdict. The prohibition of eating certain animals 
by members of the group is not necessarily extended to killing 
such animals. Mr. W. E. Roth, to whom we owe this informa- 
tion, believed that the exogamous classes were devised "to regu- 
late the proper distribution of the total quantity of food available." 
The taboos in question certainly operate to bring this about. The 
husband, according to his subclass, lives on articles of food not 
those of his wife (or wives) ; both live on articles of food not 
those permissible to their offspring, who belong to a third sub- 
class. "Hence, to put it shortly, whereas in a European community 
with a common dietary, the more children there are to feed, the 
less will become the share for the parents, in this North- West- 
Central Queensland aboriginal system the appearance of children 
will make no appreciable difference in minimizing the quantity 
of food available for those who give them birth. Any scarcity 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 325 

in the total quantity of all the food is met by a change of camping 
ground." 9 

Food taboos often have an association with the cult of guard- 
ian spirits. In most cases these are animals. The tutelary animal 
may be provided by a magician, as in Africa and sometimes in 
Australia ; it may appear to the individual in a dream or a vision, 
as in America ; or it may be arbitrarily selected for a child by his 
parents. There are also cases of guardian spirits hereditary in 
the male line. The animal thus brought into an intimate relation 
with a person is usually sacrosanct to him. 

In the Euahlayi tribe of New South Wales some members, 
principally magicians or men intended to be such, receive from 
their brothers in the magical art an animal familiar, the yunbeai. 
It is of great assistance to a man because he has the power to 
assume its shape; for example, if a magician who had a bird as 
his yunbeai was in danger of being wounded or killed, he could 
change himself into that bird and fly away. Sometimes a man 
(or a woman) who is very ill receives a yunbeai, and its strength 
goes into the patient and restores him to health. A man must 
never eat his animal familiar or he will die, and any injury to it 
hurts him too. 10 

In the Banks Islands there is also a definite identification of 
personality between a man and his tamaniu, or animal familiar. 
The injury or death of the one necessarily involves the illness or 
death of the other. A man who has obtained a tamaniu from 
some expert in magic keeps its abode very secret, for were this 
known, someone might kill it and thus kill the owner. The tama- 
niu is useful in two ways. It can be made to harm an enemy in 
the manner peculiar to itself; if it is an eel or centipede, it will 
bite him; if a shark, it will swallow him. The tamaniu also serves 
as a kind of life-token and, upon being interrogated, will tell a 
sick owner whether he is going to live or to die. One who has a 
tamaniu never eats an animal of the species to which it belongs. 11 

Among the Samoans every person from birth was supposed 
to be under the care of some "god," whose name happened to be 
invoked just as the child was born. Such a god appeared in the 
shape of some species of animal, and a man was careful never 
to injure or treat with contempt any member of the species. He 
would eat freely another man's incarnate deity, but on no account 
would he eat his own. If he did so, the god would avenge the 
insult by taking up an abode in the culprit's body and there gener- 
ating an animal of the same kind until it caused his death. 12 



326 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

The vganrong of the Sea Dayak or Iban of Borneo is usually 
the spirit of a man's ancestor or deceased relative. To the man 
the spirit manifests itself in a dream, taking human form and 
announcing that it will be his "secret helper." On the day after 
such a dream a native will wander through the jungle and look 
for signs by which he may recognize the ngarong; "and if an ani- 
mal behaves in a manner at all unusual, if a startled deer stops a 
moment to gaze at him before bounding away, if a gibbon gam- 
bols about persistently in the trees near him, if he comes upon a 
bright quartz-crystal or a strangely contorted root or creeper, that 
animal or object is for him full of a mysterious significance and 
is the abode of his ngarong." When, as is most often the case, 
it takes the form of some animal, all individuals of that species 
become objects of special regard to him; he will not kill or eat 
the animal and he will try to restrain others from doing so. A 
ngarong may after a time manifest itself in some new form, but 
the man continues, nevertheless, to respect the animal form in 
which it first appeared. In some cases this cult spreads through 
an entire family or household, and a man's children and grand- 
children will be under an obligation to respect the secret helper 
although they themselves are not aided by it. 18 

The cult of guardian spirits was widely developed among the 
American Indians, examples being the nagual of the Central 
American tribes and the manitou of the tribes of Algonquian stock. 
When the guardian spirit appears in animal form, the votary is 
sometimes careful not to injure animals of that species and to 
abstain from eating them. This is true, for instance, of the Hi- 
datsa, the Arapaho, the Maidu of northern California, the Tinne, 
and the Copper Eskimo. More commonly, no such taboos are 
observed. By the Lillooet of British Columbia the most successful 
hunters of a particular species of animal are believed to be the 
men who have that species as their patron. The Eskimo of the 
Yukon district in Alaska freely eat the flesh of their patron 
animal ; they also wear a piece of its skin or one of its bones as a 
talisman. Among the Thompson Indians, the Shuswap, and some 
other tribes, the guardian spirits are not whole animals but parts of 
animals, for instance, the head of a bird or a deer's nose; in such 
cases the votary abstains from eating only that part of the crea- 
ture, while he freely partakes of all the rest. 14 

Special food taboos may pertain to individuals, to families, 
or to social ranks and classes. Among the natives of the Trobriand 
Islands a complex system of taboos, including those on food and 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 327 

binding on both sexes, serve to indicate the different gradations 
of rank recognized by the people. For instance, a woman who 
marries a man of lower rank than herself must keep her food, 
cooking utensils, dishes, and drinking vessels apart from those 
of her husband. More commonly, it is the latter who is subject to 
restriction : he must forego such articles of diet as are forbidden 
to his wife. While the food prohibitions are true taboos, since 
illness results from even their accidental violation, the real force 
upholding them is the strong conviction that the tabooed food is 
disgusting and defiling in itself. "A citizen of Omarkana will 
speak of the stingaree eaters of the lagoon villages with the same 
disgusted contempt as the right-minded Briton uses towards the 
frog-and-snail-eaters of France, or the European towards the 
puppy-and-rotten-egg-eaters of China/' 15 

Among the natives of Murua (Woodlark Island), to the east 
of the Trobriands, the observance of a special food taboo by par- 
ents and child establishes a strong bond between them. The taboo 
is imposed by the husband's father, but only after the birth of a 
first child begotten in lawful wedlock. It relates to certain fish and 
continues for the lifetime of those subject to it. 16 

Members of the Iniat (Ingiet), a secret society in New Brit- 
ain, do not eat hogs, sharks, turtles, dogs, cuttlefish, and one or 
two kinds of fish. They believe that their souls reside permanently 
or temporarily in these animals. A man who is being initiated 
into any society is sometimes forbidden to eat certain articles of 
food for a long time, and often he voluntarily abstains from them 
after the restriction is lifted. 17 

In Mota, one of the Banks Islands, many people, perhaps as 
many as half the population, are not permitted to eat the flesh of 
certain animals or to eat certain fruits. The reason for the pro- 
hibition in most cases is that a person subject to the taboo is 
believed to be the animal or the fruit in question, because his 
mother received an influence from the one or the other before his 
birth. Thus should a woman sitting down in her garden or in the 
bush or on the shore find an animal in or near her loincloth, she 
carefully tends it, if a land animal, on the land; if a water animal, 
in a pool or stream. After a time it disappears, but its spiritual 
form enters the woman's body. When she gives birth, the child 
is regarded as being in some sense the animal (or fruit) which 
has been found and cared for by the mother. The child may not 
eat the animal during the whole of its life; serious illness or death 
would be the consequence of a violation of the taboo. If it is a 



328 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

fruit that has been found, the child may not eat it or touch the 
tree on which it grows, the latter restriction applying when the 
fruit is inedible. Our authority mentions the case of a girl, an 
eel-child, who had unwittingly broken the prohibition. One day 
she went fishing with some companions. They caught some fish, 
including an eel. All were cooked in one pot and were then eaten. 
A few hours later the girl began to rave and became quite mad. 
"The people inquired into the doings of the child and found that 
she had not eaten any part of the eel, but only the fish cooked in 
the same pot, and this was held to be sufficient to have produced 
her condition." The idea underlying the prohibition of the plant 
or animal as food is that a person eating it would be feasting in 
cannibal fashion upon himself. 18 

Among the Bantu-speaking peoples of South Africa it is diffi- 
cult to find a native who does not have at least one taboo (often 
on a particular kind of food), which he regards as all-important 
for his life and well-being. A "man of no principles" is a "man 
who eats anything" a man without taboos. He who breaks a 
taboo is despised, is called all sorts of vile names, and, if his 
offense becomes publicly known, is branded as a social outcast. 19 

In the Wabena tribe of Tanganyika Colony every man has an 
inherited food taboo. It is attributed to some unfortunate expe- 
rience of an ancestor. "He ate something which disagreed with 
him, or his eating it 'caused* his children to die." That particular 
article of diet henceforth becomes forbidden to him and his de- 
scendants. It may be an animal or part of one; less often it is a 
plant or a plant product. The people believe that dire consequences 
follow the violation of the food taboo. The alleged increase of 
leprosy at the present time is so explained. The Wabena now get 
about more than in former days, so that it is hard for a man to 
be sure of avoiding an unintentional transgression of the taboo. 
"Who knows, for instance, what may have been cooked in the pot 
borrowed from a friendly stranger?" To meet this difficulty there 
is a rite of recent origin whereby a man is absolved from the con- 
sequences of eating his mwicko, whether he does so by accident 
or of set purpose. He ceremonially eats it, when cooked by a 
medicine man, along with certain medicines. Neither he nor his 
descendants will suffer harm if this rite is carried out. It is most 
often practiced when the ban has been placed on a common article 
of food, thus producing great inconvenience. Sometimes a na- 
tive will give up his old food taboo and take on another, "and 
this may account for the fact that some of the most notorious 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 329 

gourmands possess the most uncommon and least inconvenient 
mwcko!" 2 ' 

Among the Bangala of the Upper Congo everyone observes a 
taboo (ngili) of some kind of food. It is not uncommon to hear 
a person, as he goes through a town, crying out, "Exchange for 
a piece of antelope." Though he may kill that animal, it may not 
be eaten by him; he tries, therefore, to barter it for something 
eatable. 21 In the Lower Congo region there is scarcely an article 
of food which is not prohibited to this or that member of a tribe. 
Some taboos are inherited and so are always permanent, while 
others are imposed by a medicine man and so are often temporary. 
The inherited taboo passes from father to son, being about the 
only thing that is inherited among these tribes. As long as a 
daughter continues in her father's household or remains unmar- 
ried, she also must keep the taboo, but upon marriage she takes 
over that of her husband. A father will sometimes tell his child 
of the taboo in question; in most cases the announcement is left 
to the medicine man. To fail in the strict observance of a food 
restriction means dire consequences to the child either some 
unknown but great misfortune or illness and disease sure to end 
in death. In one family the inherited taboo may be not to eat any 
wild animal with spots on it, such as a striped antelope. One who 
breaks this taboo gets a very bad skin disease. Or the taboo may 
be on hippopotamus flesh, which, when eaten, causes elephantiasis ; 
or on a fish with opal eyes, whose consumption gives you ophthal- 
mia; or on the great bullfrog, which, if you eat it, will make your 
eyes bulge out like the frog's. In all these instances the penalties are 
more or less in keeping with the broken prohibitions. On the other 
hand, the penalties of imposed taboos are quite arbitrary, being 
set forth according to the whimsical fancies of whatever "doctor" 
is called in to treat the patient. Thus, a woman troubled with fits 
might be ordered never to look in a mirror or gaze at her reflec- 
tion in a stream, while a man might be told never to eat any form 
of cassava, a taboo equivalent to prohibiting a European from 
eating flour in any form. A food taboo may often be lifted after 
a brief period by the doctor who imposed it, provided he receives 
the proper fee for his services. 22 

There is good reason to believe that many of the taboos ob- 
served by the Lower Congo tribes are really beneficial, in spite of 
all the "fetish buffoonery" accompanying them. "A native doctor 
says, 'don't do this, don't go there, don't eat such and such/ the 
taboo including the very thing which is at the root of the disease. 



330 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

The patient recovers because, unknowingly maybe, the taboo has 
hit upon the only remedy for the ailment. Again, the doctor for- 
bids a patient to pass over a 'cross-road/ that includes the door- 
step. Now rest is one of the principal items in the treatment of 
any disease, therefore the very fact that the patient stays in the 
house in obedience to a simple, sensible taboo, in many cases means 
recovery, which, after all, is the main thing. If the taboo is on 
food, the patient is probably cured of indigestion, scurvy, or some 
other disagreeable ailment, by a very wise and necessary abstention 
from meats or herbs which have caused the trouble." 28 

Personal food taboos are observed by the Bakalai or Bakele, 
a tribe of Gabon. Du Chaillu, who lived with them for some time, 
found that there was scarcely a man to whom some article of food 
was not tabooed. "Some dare not taste crocodile, some hippo- 
potamus, some monkey, some boa, some wild pig, and all from 
this belief. They will literally suffer the pangs of starvation rather 
than break through this prejudice; and they very firmly believe 
that if one of a family should eat of such forbidden food, the 
women of the same family would surely miscarry and give birth 
to monstrosities in the shape of the animal which is roondah, or 
else die of an awful disease." In addition to such inherited taboos, 
which are observed by all the members of a man's family, the 
fetish doctor sometimes forbids a person to touch certain kinds 
of food. In this case the prohibition extends only to the man, and 
not to his family. 24 According to Dr. Nassau, long a missionary 
among the tribes of this region, it is difficult to ascertain the 
reason for imposing an orunda. The prohibited article or act 
would seem to be, however, a sacrifice, ordained for the child by 
its parents and the fetish doctor, as a gift to the governing spirit 
of its life. What is thus prohibited becomes removed from the 
child's common use, becomes sacred to the spirit. "Any use of it 
by the child will thenceforth be a sacrilege which would draw 
down the spirit's wrath in the form of sickness or other evils, and 
which can be atoned for only through expensive ceremonies and 
by gifts to the magician interceding for the offender." Dr. Nas- 
sau confesses to a "strong suspicion" that where the orunda laid 
on women relates to meat, "superstition has played into the hands 
of masculine selfishness, and denies to women the choice meat in 
order that men may have the greater share." 28 

In Calabar every person is subject to a taboo, which relates 
to a particular food or to the method of eating. "When, in con- 
sequence of the influence of white culture, a man gives up his Ibet. 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 331 

he is regarded by good sound ju-juists as leading an irregular 
and dissipated life, and even the unintentional breaking of the 
Ibet is regarded as very dangerous. For example, in buying a 
slave the purchaser always inquires what is the slave's Ibet, be- 
cause if the slave were given his Ibet to eat, he would get ill." 
According to one account, the elderly female relatives of a child 
meet together soon after its birth and find out, by their magic, 
what its taboo is to be. 2e 

Three days after the birth of a Yoruba child the priest of the 
god I fa, the most important deity, makes known what gods are 
always to be worshiped and what taboos (ewo) are always to be 
observed by the newcomer into the world. The taboos number 
four, the first being a prohibition of marrying a woman whose 
gods are the same as his own and the second a prohibition of 
eating one's omen animal (a rat, a bird, or a snake). The other 
two taboos apply, respectively, to a certain animal and a certain 
plant, which must never be eaten. These, then, are a man's per- 
sonal ezvo, distinguishing him from other men. 27 

Among the Kpelle and other Liberian tribes all men who have 
the same personal food taboos form brotherhoods. The members 
of such an organization must give one another unlimited help, 
must not go to law against one another, and when danger threat- 
ens, each one must support his fellows. A member, when going 
into a strange region, will look up his comrades there. They treat 
him as a near relative, protect him, and support him. The taboo 
descends from the father to his children ; children frequently take 
the mother's also. A married woman retains her taboo and often 
adds to it that of her husband. 2 * 

The observance of personal food taboos seems to have been 
carried by West African slaves to Surinam. Among the Negroes 
of this Dutch colony every child at birth inherits from its father 
certain kina or trefu. These are prohibitions "against performing 
an act that is hateful to some supernatural agent with which the 
destiny of the individual is associated." Most trefu impose absti- 
nence from certain foods throughout the entire course of a per- 
son's life. In addition to such dominant taboos, each person adds 
others as he grows older. Some come to him when he becomes 
the votary of a god or gods for each deity likewise has its 
trefu and the worshiper of any deity takes over its tabooed 
foods. Other taboos are acquired when he obtains or uses certain 
charms. The trefu, whether inherited or acquired, may prohibit 
the eating of a certain kind of fish, a special kind of meat, or 



332 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

some vegetable. Milk, mutton, beef, and shellfish are most often 
tabooed. A child learns his trefu from his mother. She knows 
what things her husband must not eat and takes care that her 
child avoids them also. The penalty for failure to observe the 
inherited trefu is skin disease, at first a mild form of eczema, 
which develops into leprosy should the prohibitions be persistently 
disregarded. When a woman bears a child who later has skin 
eruptions, in spite of his observance of the trefu, his affliction 
is regarded as prima facie evidence that the woman had the child 
by a man other than her husband. The belief, we are told, serves 
as a social check on a wife's unfaithfulness. 29 

Among the North American Indians food taboos are some- 
times imposed by a medicine man upon a patient whom he has 
cured. These are either temporary or permanent. Among the 
Tinne of central Alaska a man may be required to abstain from 
eating or drinking anything hot or from a certain kind of fish 
or meat. Such regulations are scrupulously observed. Their 
imposition enables the medicine man to keep a strong hold on 
the people, who are thus trained in the habit of obeying him and 
of following his directions. 80 Similarly, among the Central Es- 
kimo a medicine man who has treated a sick person may impose 
upon him some dietary prohibition, for instance, of eating venison. 
A taboo of this sort is not permanent. 81 

The savage, though almost omnivorous, nevertheless avoids 
many foods which are not harmhtf but healthful and whose con- 
sumption would raise his standard of living. He fails to utilize 
all the means of subsistence available to him. Fish, swine, poultry, 
eggs, and milk are most commonly forbidden, but other useful 
foods also come under prohibition. 

It is said that, while the Tasmanians ate shellfish, a scaled fish 
of any kind was an abomination to them and that they would 
rather starve than eat it. 82 As a rule, the aborigines of Victoria 
will not eat pork "or any kind of fat the nature and origin of 
which are not known to them." 88 The same repugnance to the 
flesh of swine is found in Queensland. 84 The Arunta and other 
Central Australian tribes will not eat mushrooms and toadstools. 
These are believed to be fallen stars and to be endowed with arung- 
quiltha, noxious power or "evil magic." 85 

At Bartle Bay, British New Guinea, unmarried people of both 
sexes do not eat the wallaby, "lest this food should cause the 
members of the opposite sex to dislike them." 86 The natives of 
New Britain do not use milk or any of its preparations, although 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 333 

blood is eaten when cooked with certain leaves and pieces of 
pork. 87 In the Torres Islands the shark is not eaten because one 
who did so would be caught by a shark when in the sea, and the 
sea-eel is not eaten because it is believed to be poisonous. The 
octopus is also avoided. 88 The people of Ulawa, one of the Solo- 
mon Islands, do not eat bananas or plant banana trees. "It was 
found that the origin of this restraint was recent and well re- 
membered ; a man of much influence had at his death not long ago 
prohibited the eating of bananas after his decease, saying that he 
would be in the bananas. The elder natives would still give his 
name and say, 'We cannot eat So-and-So.' When a few years 
had passed, if the restriction had held its ground, they would have 
said, 'We must not eat our ancestor.' " 89 

Among the Sow and some other tribes of Sarawak, goats, 
fowls, and a fine kind of fern, forming an excellent vegetable 
food, are forbidden to men, though women and children may par- 
take of them. 40 The Dayak of Malintam and Njawan allow women 
and children to eat the flesh of apes, deer, and crocodiles, but cir- 
cumcised men must not do so, under penalty of becoming mad. 41 
The Ainu are said never to eat eggs. 42 Some of the coast tribes 
of Formosa do not eat fish. 43 Some tribes of Kafiristan "detest 
fish, though their rivers abound in them." 44 The flesh of hogs is 
never eaten by the Tangkhul of Manipur. Some people say that 
the pork eater would become prematurely gray, develop insanity, 
and die. Others predict his horrible death from boils. 45 

The Vedda avoid the flesh of elephants, leopards, jackals, 
bears, wild buffaloes, domestic buffaloes, and, in most cases, both 
wild and domestic fowl. Vedda shamans also abstain from eating 
the pig. 48 The natives of the Nicobar Islands do not use milk. 4T 
Among the Toda, while the milk of the non-sacred buffaloes may 
be drunk by anyone, that of the sacred buffaloes may not be used, 
except in the form of butter and buttermilk, by ordinary people. 48 
Milk is not used by many other aboriginal tribes scattered over a 
wide area in India, and the aversion to using it prevails through- 
out eastern Asia and the East Indies. 49 

The Bantu-speaking peoples of South Africa very generally 
abstain from eating fish; they call fish water snakes, and avoid 
even touching them. Many natives will not eat pork, but this 
abstinence is neither so universal nor so stringent as is the rejection 
of fish. 50 OBservance of the fish taboo is regarded as a mark of 
distinction ; thus a Zulu boy, living with the Thonga, refused to 
eat fish as they did and boasted of his social superiority to them 



334 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

on that account. 51 Almost everything in the way of meat is 
welcome to the Thonga, and caterpillars, coleoptera, larvae, and 
locusts are universally appreciated. Nevertheless, some people re- 
fuse to eat pork, "probably because pigs are modern," while 
snails are despised by everyone. 52 By the Zulu, fish and the harte- 
beest are never eaten. Formerly there was also a taboo of the 
gnu and of the eland, but these valuable food animals are now 
avoided only by girls and young unmarried women. It was be- 
lieved that one who ate the inner fat of the eland would lose all 
power of procreation. Ducks, domestic fowls, and birds' eggs 
are consumed only by very young and very old people. 58 

The Wanyamwezi formerly never ate poultry and still avoid 
eating eggs. 54 The coastal Somali do not eat hens, eggs, birds, 
rodents, or game animals. The avoidances seem to be true taboos, 
for the natives would not use again a pan in which a fowl had 
been cooked by a European traveler among them. 55 Among the 
Atheraka of Kenya wild birds and fowls are not eaten except by 
uncircumcised children; eggs and fish are not eaten by anyone. 58 
Nothing but dire starvation will induce the Akikuyu to eat wild 
meat. As regards fish, it is specifically laid down "by custom and 
tradition" that to eat them makes a person ceremonially unclean. 
Eggs, also, are not used as food. 57 By the Banyoro of Uganda 
goats, sheep, fowls, and all kinds of fish are "absolutely forbid- 
den" to be eaten. 58 The Galla scorn to eat eggs. 59 

Milk is not used by the Bayaka of the Belgian Congo, although 
blood is eaten cooked. 60 While the Bahuana allow women to eat 
frogs, men must not do so, "under penalty of becoming ill." 61 The 
Bangala (Boloki) of the Upper Congo, who eat nearly every- 
thing that is eatable, including palm maggots, certain kinds of 
caterpillars, and large bats, regard milk with abhorrence. Any- 
one drinking milk is considered unclean for several days and is 
not allowed to take his meals with his family. They may milk 
the goats and sheep of the missionary without suffering defile- 
ment, but the fluid must not touch their lips. Raw eggs are also 
tabooed by the Bangala, although they will eat well-cooked eggs, 
no matter how unsavory these may be. 62 

The natives of the Loango coast abstain from the flesh of 
goats lest their skin scale off; from poultry lest their hair drop 
out ; and from wild birds lest their children be born with crooked 
feet. 68 The Bakwiri of the Cameroons forbid the eating of fowls 
and eggs by women. The Bakundu extend this prohibition to 
men. 64 The Ashanti do not eat eggs and "cannot be persuaded to 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 335 

taste milk." 66 An Ibo "revels in tinned milk," whereas he shud- 
ders at the thought of drinking milk fresh from the cow. 86 In 
Northern Nigeria, among the still heathen tribes, a man never 
milks his cattle. 67 

The aborigines of the Canary Islands never ate fish and did 
not know how to catch them. 68 Milk, whether of cow or goat or 
sheep or mare, is never drunk by the Lengua Indians of the Para- 
guayan Chaco. Old people consider it unfit for them. Young peo- 
ple are forbidden to drink it because of the idea that it will affect 
them not only physically but also mentally, and the Indians have 
no desire that their offspring should have animal characteristics. 69 

The Bororo of Brazil think that every tapir, every wild pig, 
and every alligator shelters the soul of a deceased tribesman; 
hence they never kill one of these animals unless a magician is 
within reach to exorcise its soul. "They believe if they should 
eat it they would surely die." 70 

Another Brazilian tribe, the Coroado, "will not taste the meat 
of the deer, lest they should lose their rich black hair ; or the pro- 
tuberance on the neck of the tapir, which is the best morsel, lest 
they should lose the love of their wives. In the same way they 
avoid the meat of the duck and of the cutia, a very savoury rodent, 
lest their children should acquire big, ugly-shaped feet and ears." 71 
Certain food animals, notably the deer and the tapir, are not uti- 
lized by the Jivaro on account of taboos. While there is no hesi- 
tation in killing deer and furnishing them to white people to use 
as food, the natives themselves will not partake of deer meat. 72 
Swine are tabooed as food by the Wapisiana of British Guiana. 78 
The Guiana Indians, it is said, refuse to eat the flesh of such ani- 
mals as are not indigenous to their country but were introduced 
from abroad, such as oxen, sheep, goats, and fowls. If there is 
an utter lack of other food, these will be sometimes eaten, but 
only after the medicine man or an old woman (who may take his 
place) has blown on them a number of times, "apparently on the 
principle that the spirit of the animal about to be eaten is thus 
expelled." 74 

By the Seri Indians of Mexico the smaller rodents, especially 
squirrels, are "excluded from the menu by a rigidly observed tabu 
of undiscovered meaning." As a result, the animals have multi- 
plied so abundantly that their burrows honeycomb the land for 
hundreds of square miles and make much of it impassable for 
horses and nearly so for pedestrians. Thus invaders are kept out 
and the country is protected against aliens. 75 



336 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Swine are never eaten by the Zuni, who reserve them as food 
for their captive eagles. There is no taboo against swine, only 
disgust at the thought of eating the village scavengers. "They 
cannot comprehend why white people eat pork, and yet they eat 
food that would disgust us." Ta The Zuni, also, will not eat fish 
or any other creature living in water. They say that in a desert 
land water is scarce and hence sacred. All things really or appar- 
rently belonging to water, and all creatures living in it, partake of 
this sacredness. Fish, which eat water, chew it, and breathe it, 
are therefore especially sacred. 77 

The Navaho "must never touch fish, and nothing will induce 
them to taste one ; their forests abound with wild turkey, but they 
are strictly forbidden to eat them ; bears are quite numerous, but 
as they are also taboo they will not even touch a bearskin .... 
and the flesh of swine they abominate as if they were the devout- 
est of Hebrews." 78 Although the streams in the land of the Apache 
teem with fish, these are never eaten. Pork is also avoided by the 
Apache. 70 According to an old account, when swine were first 
brought among the Chickasaw Indians, "they deemed it such a 
horrid abomination in any of their people to eat that filthy and 
impure food, that they excluded the criminal from all religious 
communion in their circular town-house, or in their quadrangular 
holy ground at the annual expiation of sins, equally as if he had 
eaten unsanctified fruits. After the yearly atonement was made 
at the temple, he was indeed readmitted to his usual privileges." 80 
The Pawnee Indians tabooed swine. 81 

It is said that some California Indians (near San Diego) 
would not eat the flesh of "large animals." When, however, a 
Franciscan mission was established in their territory the taboo 
had to be removed, for they were now fed largely on beef. 82 By 
the Twana and other Indians of Washington the mallard duck 
was not eaten until after the whites came into the country. They 
explained the prohibition by the fact that the bird fed on snails. 88 

Sometimes there are prohibitions regarding the preparation 
of food in certain ways and other rules which forbid the eating 
of it under certain circumstances. Evil spirits punish an Anda- 
man Islander who offends them by baking or roasting pig's flesh, 
the smell of which they detest. Since it is also obnoxious to Pu- 
luga, a mythical being, he often assists them in discovering the 
delinquent. The same risk does not attend the boiling of pork, for 
the olfactory nerves of the fastidious spirits are not keen enough 
to detect the smell of pork prepared in this manner. 84 The An- 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 337 

damanese, furthermore, dare not use for fuel in cooking turtle 
the wood of a certain tree whose bark supplies the fiber for mak- 
ing harpoon lines and turtle nets. Such an action is so abhorrent 
to "Mr. Moon" that he visits offenders with summary punishment. 
Men would have their throats cut and women would be deprived 
of their breasts. However, this particular wood may be safely 
burned when other animals, pigs for instance, are being prepared 
for food. 85 

For the Masai, milk is a sacred fluid. They never sell or give it 
to strangers. The most heinous act which a stranger can commit 
when among them is to boil milk. Doing this so enrages the cows 
that they will at once run dry. An offender against the rule must 
pay a heavy fine, or, failing that, "the insult to the holy cattle 
will be wiped out in his blood." 86 The Bahima of Uganda even 
say that "if a European puts his milk into tea it will kill the cow 
which gave the milk." 87 This aversion to boiling milk for fear of 
injury to the cattle is shared by many other pastoral tribes in 
Africa. 88 

Among the Pomeroon Arawak "when an animal is killed with 
an arrow-trap or a gun-trap, its flesh has to be cooked in a pot 
without a cover, over a fire that is not too large, so as to avoid 
any water boiling over. Were either of these matters not at- 
tended to, there would be no further use either for the arrow or 
for the gun, as all the game of the same kind as that recently 
trapped would take its departure to another region." 89 The Nav- 
aho taboo the wood of the corral in which antelopes are trapped 
and never cook food over a fire of wood from such an enclosure. 
They even keep at a distance from such a fire, dreading to feel its 
warmth or to inhale its smoke. 90 

A taboo of universal application among the Copper Eskimo 
of Coronation Gulf forbids the products of the land and of the 
sea from being cooked in the same pot at the same time. Accord- 
ingly, when the natives are living on the land and have stocks of 
both deer meat and seal meat, the one is cooked in the morning and 
the other at night. Nevertheless, both kinds of food may be eaten 
by them at the same time. 91 In many places on the coast driftwood 
would supply the natives with a fair amount of fuel if it were 
not deliberately avoided, as a rule, because of the taboo against 
mingling products of the sea with those of the land. Driftwood 
comes from the sea, consequently, caribou and fish that are caught 
in rivers and lakes, must not be cooked over a fire of that kind of 
wood. 92 By the Labrador Eskimo, sea foods and land foods are 



338 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

not eaten together. 98 The Central Eskimo may not eat venison on 
the same day with whale, seal, or walrus flesh, nor may two such 
kinds of food lie together on the floor of the hut, or behind the 
lamps. They wash themselves before changing from the one food 
to the other. 94 

Among rude hunters, fishers, and food-gatherers much more 
is possessed collectively than individually. Most economic goods 
belong to the group as a whole ; the individual has only a right of 
user which has not as yet passed into a recognized right of own- 
ership. Camping places, hunting grounds, and fishing streams, 
together with objects employed for religious or magical purposes, 
such as sacred stones, masks, and bull-roarers, are looked upon as 
community property sometimes that of a single family, but more 
often that of a clan or a tribe. In the light of these conceptions, 
it is scarcely surprising to learn that even the untutored savage 
realizes that there must be a closed season when certain plants 
are not to be gathered and certain animals are not to be killed, 
lest the supply of food, enjoyed by all members of the group, be 
seriously diminished if not entirely destroyed. To secure the ob- 
servance of the food restrictions by everybody, they often take 
the form of taboos. 

The intichiuma ceremonies of the Central Australian tribes 
are performed by men of the different totemic groups for the 
purpose of magically increasing the food supply of the entire 
tribe. Each group, the kangaroo men or the witchetty grub men 
for example, is believed to have immediate control over the num- 
bers of the animal or plant whose name it bears. Each group is 
bound, therefore, to contribute to the general stock of food by 
working magic for the propagation of its totem. On no account 
may this be eaten until it is abundant and fully grown. Any in- 
fringement of the rule is thought to nullify the result of the magic 
and so to reduce the available supply of food. When the totem 
becomes plentiful, the nonmembers bring to the camp a large 
supply of the animal or plant. They do not eat it, however, until 
the men of the totemic group have eaten sparingly of it or have 
performed some simple rite, such as rubbing themselves with the 
animal's fat, and have given verbal permission. The season for 
kangaroos or witchetty grubs is now open. All may indulge in 
them freely, except those for whom the animal or plant in question 
is their totem. 95 

In the Mekeo district of British New Guinea the Fuluaari 
secret society has the responsibility of enforcing taboos on areca 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 339 

nuts and coconuts, when the supply on the trees is running short, 
but these prohibitions are imposed by a special official, the afu (ta- 
boo) chief. When there is a good show of nuts, the chief proclaims 
that on a certain day the prohibition will be lifted. It has been 
known to endure as long as thirty-two weeks. 98 In the delta of 
the Purari River occupied by the Namau group of tribes large 
tracts of land, bearing coconuts, and long waterways were an- 
nually put under a taboo. A number of young men, wearing the 
masks of a secret society, patrolled the river banks and warned 
passers-by against taking the coconuts or catching the fish in that 
part of the river that had been marked off. The young men, 
whose persons were regarded as "sacred," carried bows and ar- 
rows and shot anyone who dared to ignore the taboo. It was "a 
primitive but effective way of preserving food which was the 
common right of all their people." 97 

Among the Massim tribes of southeastern New Guinea the 
reefs and fishing grounds in the immediate neighborhood of a 
hamlet are considered the property of that hamlet, and its old men 
have the power of protecting them by a taboo which is valid 
against all comers. Usually men of hamlets other than the one 
having the property right over a particular reef join in the first 
fishing after the removal of the taboo. The fish caught are di- 
vided equally among the fishermen. 98 Among the Mailu of Oran- 
gerie Bay, if fish become scarce in any particular place on the 
reef or near it, the old men or the headman of the clan owning 
rights over the reef erect a taboo sign on the spot. It stands for 
three or four lunar months. When, upon investigation, the fish 
are found to be plentiful again, the sign is removed and fishing is 
resumed. 99 

The natives of the Trobriand Islands put a taboo (kaytubu- 
tabu) on both coconut palms and betel-nut palms. It is imposed 
by a magician, who at the same time recites various spells designed 
to make the fruit plentiful. During its continuance the people are 
not allowed to eat or in any way use coconut in the village, though 
they may do so outside the village precincts. They must also re- 
frain from making a noise, especially by chopping or hammering, 
and they must be careful not to allow any firelight to be seen in 
the village. If the coconuts were shocked by either sound or 
light, they would fall down unripe. The taboo period lasts for 
two months. As our authority observes, the real incentive for 
keeping the prohibitions is the belief that nonobservance of them 
would nullify the magician's spells. 100 



340 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

In New Britain there are no particular periods during which 
certain foods may not be eaten except when a taboo is placed 
upon them by a chief or by the Dukduk or some similar secret 
society. "This is generally done either to increase the quantity by 
making as it were a close season, or for monetary reasons." 101 
Throughout the New Hebrides coconuts are under a taboo till 
all the other crops are planted, "and death is the penalty of eating 
the forbidden f ruit." 102 In the Loyalty Islands a "big chief" would 
occasionally taboo all the coconut trees in his district. When the 
restriction was removed, the nuts were gathered into a huge pile 
and divided among the people. Nowadays the nuts are still ta- 
booed, in order to provide a supply of copra. 103 In the Fiji Islands 
it was customary for a chief to put coconut groves under an inter- 
dict until the nuts ripened. Fishing grounds were also subject to 
the same restriction. While "fear of the gods" helped to support 
the taboo, an intending transgressor knew that he might be robbed 
of his possessions, have his gardens despoiled, or even be killed. 104 

Closed seasons seem to have been observed throughout the 
Polynesian area. In Tikopia, which lies to the northeast of the 
Banks Islands, the people are arranged in four divisions, each one 
with a chief and its own district. The chief has the power to taboo 
any particular place in order that the coconut trees on it may 
reach a proper size before being gathered. 105 At Tongatabu, ac- 
cording to the testimony of Captain Cook, the special officer "who 
presided over the taboo" inspected all the produce of the island, 
taking care that every man should plant and cultivate his quota 
and ordering what should be eaten and what not. "By this wise 
regulation they effectually guard against a famine; a sufficient 
quantity of ground is employed in raising provisions ; and every 
article thus raised is secured from unnecessary waste." 106 

In the Society Islands certain foods were tabooed in times of 
dearth. 107 In the Marquesas Islands, should the quantity of bread- 
fruit in a district be seriously diminished, the chief could taboo 
the trees for as long as twenty months so that they might recover 
their vigor. If fish were beginning to get scarce, a taboo might 
be laid on one part of the bay in order to allow the fish to 
spawn without being disturbed. 108 In the Hawaiian Islands, as 
elsewhere in the Polynesian area, fishing formed one of the chief 
means of livelihood and ranked next to agriculture in importance. 
Communal regulations relating to fishing were imposed twice a 
year in connection with two sacred fish, the aku, or bonito, and 
the opelu. Each was tabooed by turns for six months "not to be 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 341 

eaten on pain of death." 109 It was customary for the Maori to 
place a tapu upon farms and their productions while ripening; 
rivers, also might be tabooed. 110 

The men's clubs (kaldebekel) in the Pelew Islands proclaim 
and enforce a taboo (blul) laid by the chiefs on coconuts, pigs, 
the betel tree, or anything else of which there is or may be a 
shortage. Formerly death was the penalty for a breach of such a 
prohibition ; now the culprit is confined in the clubhouse until ran- 
somed by the head chief. 111 In the Mortlock Islands, when the 
breadfruit becomes ready for eating, the chief taboos coconuts 
for three or four months so that there may be a sufficient supply 
of the old nuts. Fishing may also be placed under a general inter- 
diction or be allowed to certain persons only, in order to conserve 
the supply of fish. 112 

Among the Naga tribes of Manipur numerous communal ta- 
boos forbid various activities, including hunting and fishing, at 
a time when the people are engaged in agricultural labor. Their 
effect is to provide a much-needed closed season for wild animals, 
"for these sportsmen spare not the does." 118 

The Purrah or Poro, a secret society of the Mendi of Sierra 
Leone, places its interdict "upon trees, streams, fishing-pots, fruit 
trees, oil palms, bamboo palms, growing crops, and in fact upon 
all and everything that is required to be reserved for any par- 
ticular use." 11 * A piece of rag, a stone, or a few sticks may be the 
only indication that a taboo has been imposed, but it is effective. 
"Water is kept uncontaminated ; trees laden with fruit are not 
touched, except by the owner; the entrances of villages and spe- 
cial bush-paths are kept clean ; fish are preserved when necessary ; 
and a man's property is absolutely safe." 115 The imposition of 
such taboos seems to be a common function of the West African 
secret societies, for we are told that boys undergoing initiation 
into them learn from their instructors "why there should be close 
seasons for certain oil-bearing and fruiting trees, and for certain 
beasts, birds, and fish." 116 

It is said that the Fuegians abstained from shooting young 
birds before these were able to fly. When the surgeon on board 
the "Beagle" shot some ducklings as specimens, a native said to 
him, "Oh, Mr. Bynoe, very bad to shoot little duck come wind 
come rain blow very much blow." 117 The Guiana Indians 
believe that if they kill too many of one kind of game the "bush 
spirit" of that particular animal may come and do them harm. 118 

Among the Seri Indians the pelican is the bird held most in 



342 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

regard, for it forms one of the chief articles in the native dietary. 
The principal haunt and only known breeding-place is an island 
in the Gulf of California. The pelican, a fleshy, sluggish creature, 
is almost defenseless when attacked on its sleeping grounds. If 
hunted indiscriminately, it would soon become extinct. "Yet it 
survives in literal thousands to patrol the waters of all Seriland 
in far-stretching files and veers seldom out of sight in suitable 
weather." Taboos among the Seri protect the bird during the 
breeding season. 119 The Hopi Indians of Arizona, who greatly 
prize eagle feathers as decorations in religious rites, regard these 
birds and their nests as the common property of the clans. They 
think it wrong to take all the young from the nest at any one 
time. "It is evidently due to this taboo that the perpetuation of the 
species in Tusayan is effected." 120 

These taboos thus have the practical effect of preserving the 
plants and animals most important in the group economy. Crops 
are allowed to mature, fruits to ripen, and beasts of field and fish 
in the sea to increase and multiply. By imposing a restraint on 
individual selfishness for the benefit of the group as a whole, 
such prohibitions have operated, unquestionably, to deepen the 
sense of community obligation. 

Where closed seasons for plants and animals are observed, 
it is customary to present a portion of the earliest ripened crop, 
or of the game first killed, or of the fish first caught to the gods, 
the ancestral spirits, or chiefs and kings for their consumption 
before the people may partake of the new food. The gods, the 
ancestors, or earthly rulers as intermediaries between men and 
supernatural beings claim a share of the new produce, for to them 
it is due and without their blessing it may not be safely devoted to 
general use. What was originally a secular economic arrangement 
to safeguard the food supply of the community is thus taken into 
the sphere of religion. 121 

In certain districts of Viti Levu, the largest of the Fiji Islands, 
the first-fruits of the yam harvest were presented to the ancestors. 
The ceremony took place in the stone enclosure known as the 
nanga. No one might eat the new yams until this ceremony had 
been performed. The yams thus offered were piled up in the sacred 
place and left to rot there. An impious person who appropriated 
them would be smitten with madness. 122 

The. sacrifice of first-fruits seems to have formed a regular 
part of the religious system of the Polynesians, for we possess 
accounts of it among the Hawaiians, the Samoans, the Maori, 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 343 

the natives of the Society Islands, and those of the Tonga Islands. 
In the latter group the ceremony, called inachi, generally took 
place about October. It was observed with scrupulous care, since 
the people believed that to neglect it would bring upon them the 
vengeance of the gods. According to William Mariner, the inachi 
was the allotment of a portion of the fruits of the earth to the 
gods in the person of the divine chief, the Tui Tonga, an allot- 
ment made once a year, just before the yam crop had arrived at 
maturity. 128 Similarly the Hawaiians sacrificed the first-fruits of 
their orchards and gardens, together with a portion of their live- 
stock, "as it was supposed death would be inflicted on the owner 
or the occupant of the land, from which the god should not re- 
ceive such acknowledgment." 12 * In Samoa it was usual to honor 
the village chief with the first-fruits. Calamities of all sorts were 
supposed to descend upon the family of anyone who failed to ob- 
serve the custom. 125 Among the Maori the kumara, or sweet po- 
tato, was a sacred plant; all persons engaged in its cultivation 
were temporarily in a state of taboo; and the offering of its first- 
fruits formed a solemn religious ceremony. 126 

Ceremonies of first-fruits are common in Africa. With the 
Thonga there is a prohibition to partake of the new harvest before 
the gods, the chief, the sub-chiefs, the counselors, the headmen, 
and the older brothers in order of age have had their share. For 
others to precede them in its use would be a sin and would bring 
on them misfortune. 127 Among the Akamba the elders of the vil- 
lage, having gathered the first-fruits of the harvest, assemble at 
the village meeting place, where they sacrifice a goat. Then they 
cook samples of the various crops in a big pot, together with the 
stomach contents of the goat. When the food is ready, the women 
from the neighboring villages come around and receive some of 
it. Were this ceremony omitted the people would become taboo 
and be afflicted with diarrhoea. But, once performed, they may 
reap and eat of the crop in perfect safety. 128 On the Gold Coast 
the first-fruits festival, or yam "custom," generally occurs at the 
end of August, when the new yams are ripe. People must not eat 
them before the conclusion of the ceremonies by which the taboo 
on them is lifted. The "custom" has a double purpose: it is a 
thanksgiving to the gods for having protected the crops; and it 
also serves to prevent the people from eating the green and un- 
wholesome yams. The fetish men determine when the yams are in 
a fit state for consumption and then fix the date for the cere- 
monies. 12 * 



344 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

Private property is frequently protected by the imposition of 
taboos. These include prohibitions of passage intended to pre- 
serve a tract of territory from intrusion; prohibitions affecting 
landed property, together with the crops and fruits upon it ; and 
prohibitions affecting personal chattels and animals. They may 
be imposed directly by the owner or else a chief, a magician, or 
a secret society may be called upon to establish them. Their exist- 
ence is usually indicated by some simple sign which is readily 
understood by the passer-by. Like all taboos they operate auto- 
matically; sooner or later the threatened evil descends on the hap- 
less offender; he and his suffer sharp and condign punishment. 180 

Taboos of private property seem to be almost unknown among 
the wandering savages of Australia, who lead so literally a hand- 
to-mouth existence and whose possessions are confined to what a 
man wears or carries about with him, the things he finds or makes 
with his own hands, Some of the Queensland aborigines hang up 
a bull-roarer over anything which they wish to protect from mo- 
lestation. A baby's navel-string can also be used to place a taboo 
on yams and other objects, because the natives think that anything 
brought to the spot where a newly born child is lying or which it 
is allowed to touch becomes affected with its occult power. A man 
who is going away from the camp, leaving there his arms and 
food, will sometimes first urinate near these possessions. They 
then become tami (equivalent to taboo), and he may be sure of 
finding them intact on his return. 181 

By the Eastern Islanders of Torres Straits a reddish powder 
called kamer, found in rotten driftwood, was believed to be very 
potent in magic, especially as a means of protecting gardens 
from thieves. When bananas or other foodstuffs were ripe, the 
owner of a garden would secretly prepare kamer and doctor one 
of his trees. "As the thief was not certain which tree had been 
poisoned, he was afraid to risk it and so left the food alone." 182 
The Massim tribes of southeastern New Guinea protect prop- 
erty by "no-trespass" signs. They make a distinction, however, 
between taboos automatically enforced and prohibitions having 
behind them only the force of custom and public opinion. At 
Wagawaga, on Milne Bay, the former class is indicated by the 
giriba sign, which has been smeared with a certain medicine and 
applied by an old man who knows the correct formulas to recite at 
the time. The latter class is indicated by the hato sign, which has 
been set up without this ceremony. A person who stole any object 
marked by the giriba sign would become sick. The owner himself 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 345 

would suffer as severely as a stranger ; in fact, he would not think 
of taking any fruit from a coconut tree thus protected until the 
taboo had been lifted by the man who imposed it. On the other 
hand, stealing anything marked by the liato sign, if undiscovered, 
involves no inevitably unpleasant consequences. If the thief were 
known, he would have to reckon with the owner or with the vil- 
lage authorities for his conduct. 188 At Bartle Bay taboos for the 
protection of private property can be imposed and removed only 
by specialists who own the incantations which go with them and 
make them efficacious. The incantations were bought from for- 
mer owners, since deceased, and are sold to those who will pre- 
serve them in the future. "It must be noticed that there is no 
mystery in any part of the tabu, except the incantation. There 
must, one may suppose, be some unseen power at the back of it, 
but no one can explain what that power is. I asked the chief, 
Magaia, of Wamira: but his only answer was, 'Who knows?' 
i.e., no one knows." 184 Among the Mailu, when an owner of a 
coconut tree suspects that his nuts will be stolen, he utters a spell 
and binds the nuts together with some of their own fiber. A man 
who steals them or intends to do so gets boils and swellings all 
over his body and eventually dies. Banana trees and taro patches 
are similarly protected. 185 Among the Orokaiva, while a native 
may be inclined to respect the taboo signs on private property out 
of consideration for the man neighbor, relative, or friend who 
has set them up, there is always in his consciousness a fear of the 
crippled leg or the crop of boils which he may get from interfer- 
ing with objects possessing occult and evil power. 18 " 

In the Northern D'Entrecasteaux Islands groves and gardens 
are protected by taboos, each one with a definite penalty, such as 
an eruption of sores, for its infringement. Emaciation is another 
penalty, "and the whole hamlet will point the finger of reproach 
at the delinquent; his only cure is to bathe frequently in salt 
water." Despite all their taboos, the natives often rob the gardens 
and groves, although those of a man famed for his skill in magic 
would be respected. 187 In Dobu Island, which belongs to the 
D'Entrecasteaux group, all diseases are supposed to be caused by 
the violation of taboos with which incantations, "expressing black 
hatred in an extremely ugly form," are associated. There is a 
special incantation for each disease. Every man and woman 
knows at least one of these spells; sometimes as many as five 
will be known by a single person. The natives evince great fear 
of them. When Mr. Fortune obtained the incantation for gangosa, 



346 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

his informant insisted that no word of it should be uttered near 
a human habitation; it must be uttered on a far and desolate 
shore. Both Mr. Fortune and his informant had to cleanse them- 
selves in the sea after repeating the dreadful words and had to 
refrain from going near the village for several hours afterward. 
Taboos, reinforced in this manner, are commonly used to protect 
fruit trees situated away from the village. It would be quite out 
of the question to taboo a tree in the village, for everyone would 
contract a disease by mere propinquity to the tabooed object. Be- 
fore a man can take the fruit from his own private tree he must 
first nullify the effect of the incantation, thus removing the 
taboo. 138 

Throughout the Melanesian area taboos safeguard private 
property. Among the Manus of the Admiralty Islands these are 
called sorosol. In some cases people breaking such prohibitions 
apparently do not suffer any evil consequences. The penalty is 
paid by their children, who are born blind or deaf or with some 
malformation, clubfeet, for instance. Other sorosol carry the pen- 
alty of causing a miscarriage or a stillbirth. 139 In New Britain 
people who do not respect the taboos protecting plantations and 
coconut groves will fall ill or suffer some other misfortune. 140 In 
the Solomon Islands a wife sometimes puts a taboo on her little 
possessions to prevent a greedy husband from seizing them. 1 * 1 
Taboos are chiefly used, however, to protect coconut groves and 
taro patches. Hunting privileges over another man's land will be 
similarly safeguarded. 142 

In New Georgia the preventive against all trespass and rob- 
bery is the erection of hope. These property marks are fashioned 
in accordance with well-known "sympathetic" principles. At the 
entrance to his coconut plantation the owner will set up a single 
stick, three or four feet in length, with its top cleft for a short 
distance. In the opening are placed a bunch of dead leaves, a piece 
of fern root, and a wisp of grass. Sometimes the stick will be 
crowned with a skull, part of an ant's nest, or a large shell. The 
would-be thief, gazing on this complicated structure, has a picture 
of the fate in store for him : according to the emblem of sanctity 
exhibited will he wither away like the grass, become as hopelessly 
moribund as the original owner of the skull, or perish like the 
ants which once lived in the nest or the fish which once occupied 
the shell. 148 In Eddystone Island nearly every disease "is ascribed 
to the infraction of a taboo on the fruit of certain trees, especially 
the coconut and betel-vine, the taboo, as well as the sign by which 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 347 

it is known, being called kenjo." There are many varieties of 
kenjo, each one with special rites for its imposition and removal. 
The rites, as a rule, can be performed only by the man or small 
group of men owning the variety of kenjo in question. He and 
his fellows are consequently the only people who are able to treat 
the disease produced by the infraction of that particular kenjo. 
Thus, if a native violates the taboo called kirengge and in conse- 
quence suffers from epilepsy or some other convulsive seizure, 
he will consult as a doctor the man who is known to have the 
power of imposing and removing this kind of a taboo. 144 

In the Banks Islands a man, by virtue of his association with a 
spirit, will put a taboo on a path, part of the beach, a canoe, a 
fishing net, or fruit trees, "and no one would be surprised if sick- 
ness fell at once upon anyone who should break the tapu." A 
minor prohibition, soloi, is also found, in which probably there 
is no direct reference to a supernatural sanction. "A person of no 
particular distinction would set his soloi before the trees or gar- 
den, the fruit and produce of which he wished to reserve for some 
feast, and intruders would know at any rate that he carried his 
bow and arrows." Stronger than any individual sanction for the 
protection of private property is that of the secret societies called 
Tamate. Each one has its leaf, and any member of a society can 
set such a leaf as a mark. To disregard it would bring down upon 
him the vengeance of all the members of the society. 145 At Tanna, 
one of the New Hebrides, the rule is, steal whatever you can with- 
out being found out. But a tubaJian (taboo) "is a more effective 
barrier to petty thieving than the penalties of any police courts/ 1146 
It was customary in the Fiji Islands to pick out good trees which 
could be used for making kava bowls and other special articles 
and reserve them by means of taboos, until they were wanted. 
Such trees were considered very valuable, because of their scarcity 
and the length of time required for their growth. 147 

Taboos to protect private property in coconut trees and other 
fruit trees find extensive use among the natives of Tikopia, who 
remain little influenced by European civilization. On the whole, the 
taboos operate effectively. People steal mainly from unguarded 
orchards or from those in which the owner has merely set up 
a no-trespassing sign. Sometimes a taboo is disregarded, how- 
ever, either by a man so skeptical of its potency that he is ready 
to take the risk of breaking it, or by a man who is not afraid of 
doing so because he has previously dealt with its spirit guard- 
ians. 148 At Niue, 'also, the natives continue to impose property 



348 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

taboos. A man who takes anything from a tabooed place and later 
discovers that it has been tabooed is likely to die from simple fear 
of the consequences of his action. If a theft from a taro patch 
has occurred, and the owner sees the hole where the taro stood, 
he puts a curse on the thief. This is done by inserting in the 
hole a stone wrapped in the leaves of a certain kind of fern ; as 
a result, the thief has a stomach tumor. 149 In the Tonga Islands 
a person who wants to protect his coconuts, for instance, will go 
to a man who enjoys a reputation for curing a certain kind of 
disease and get him to taboo them. A thief would acquire the 
disease and for a cure would have to consult the man who imposed 
the interdict, paying him well for his services. 150 In Tahiti a sign 
indicating a property taboo continued to be respected long after 
the beliefs on which its sanctity was founded had ceased to pre- 
vail. 161 

The Samoans made extensive use of taboo signs to prevent 
stealing from plantations and fruit trees. Any sort of stick sus- 
pended horizontally from a tree expressed the owner's wish that 
a thief who touched the tree might have a disease running right 
across his body and remaining there until he died. A few pieces 
of clam shell buried in the ground and surmounted by some reeds 
tied together at the top warned a prospective thief that he would 
be afflicted with ulcerous sores. Another object of terror was the 
white shark sign, made by plaiting a coconut leaf in the form of a 
shark. When suspended from a tree, this was tantamount to an 
expressed imprecation that the culprit might be devoured by a 
white shark the next time he went fishing. Thus, declares our 
missionary authority, the Samoans offered no exception to "the 
remarkably widespread system of superstitious taboo; and the 
extent to which it preserved honesty and order among a heathen 
people will be readily imagined." 152 

At Vaitupu, one of the Ellice Islands, it was the special busi- 
ness of one of the four gods who ruled the earth "to watch and kill 
the thieves." 158 Many taboo signs, employed by the natives of 
Funafuti to protect their trees, are indistinct and easily over- 
looked by foreigners. The natives, even the children, readily de- 
tect them. 154 The people of Rotuma are said to be "honest to a 
degree." They believe that should a person touch or eat the food 
of another the owner, if he knows what has been done, can kill 
the thief by means of magic wrought on the food. 156 

During his residence among the Marquesans of Nukuhiva, 
Herman Melville noticed how frequently breadfruit trees and 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 349 

coconut trees had a wreath of leaves twined in a peculiar fashion 
about their trunks. "This was the mark of the taboo. The trees 
themselves, their fruit, and even the shadows they cast upon the 
ground, were consecrated by its presence." 156 "The sanction of 
the tapu," writes Robert Louis Stevenson, "is superstitious; and 
the punishment of infraction either a wasting or a deadly sickness. 
A slow disease follows on the eating of tapu fish, and can only be 
cured with the bones of the same fish burned with the due mys- 
teries. The cocoanut and breadfruit tapu works more swiftly. Sup- 
pose you have eaten tapu fruit at the evening meal, at night your 
sleep will be uneasy ; in the morning, swelling and a dark discolora- 
tion will have attacked your neck, whence they spread upward to 
the face ; and in two days, unless the cure be interjected, you must 
die. This cure is prepared from the rubbed leaves of the tree 
from which the patient stole ; so that he cannot be saved without 
confessing to the kahuku the person whom he has wronged." It 
is not unusual among the Marquesans for people to taboo their 
trees secretly, so that they may detect a depredator by his sick- 
ness. 167 

The Maori, like some of the Melanesian peoples, distinguished 
between property taboos and prohibitions whose efficacy depended 
on the social position and influence of the person imposing them. 
To impose a taboo the first step was to set up a post on the edge of 
the forest or the bank of the stream to be safeguarded. A lock 
of hair or a bunch of grass was attached to the post. The officiat- 
ing priest then recited an incantation "to sharpen the teeth" of 
the sign (rahui), "that it might destroy man." Anyone who vio- 
lated the taboo thus imposed was believed to acquire, automatically, 
a wasting disease. A prohibition without an incantation could be 
imposed by a chief only, and its observance was a tribute to his 
prestige. A chief would set up a post and hang an old garment 
on it as a sign of the prohibition ; sometimes this was proclaimed 
simply by word of mouth. Many kinds of economic resources 
were thus temporarily preserved : the streams to prevent fish be- 
ing taken out of their due season; the forests for their products; 
cultivated food plants, flax, fern root, and places where red ochre 
was obtained. 168 

Taboos of private property are found widely in the East 
Indies. 169 The people of Flores believe that many diseases which 
afflict them come from eating some plant or fruit that has been 
tabooed. Even merely going into a plantation thus protected will 
have this result. The taboo is laid by a professional magician. 160 



350 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

In the island of Timor a "prevalent custom is that of the pomali, 
exactly equivalent to the 'taboo' of the Pacific islanders, and 
equally respected. It is used on the commonest occasions, and a 
few palm leaves stuck outside a garden as a sign of the pomali 
will preserve its produce from thieves as effectually as the threat- 
ening notice of man-traps, spring-guns, or a savage dog would 
do with us." 161 When one of the Kubu, a small tribe of southern 
Sumatra, finds a bee-infested tree in the forest, he clears away 
the brush around it, makes one or two hacks on the bark, and re- 
cites a spell. The tree is now his, and no one will dispute its pos- 
session with him. 162 Some of the Land Dayak of Borneo make 
rude figures of a naked man and woman. These are then placed 
opposite each other on the path to the farms. The spirit which 
inhabits each manikin will prevent inimical influences from af- 
fecting the farms, "and evil betide the profane wretch who lifts 
his hand against them violent fever and sickness would be sure 
to follow." 168 In the Baram district an entire river is sometimes 
tabooed by the camphor collectors. 184 

The natives of the Nicobar Islands protect coconut trees by 
tying leaves around the trunks. "The vast majority accept the 
token as a warrant of ownership/' 165 In Ceylon, "to prevent fruit 
being stolen, the people hang up certain grotesque figures around 
the orchard and dedicate it to the devils, after which none of the 
native Ceylonese will dare even to touch the fruit on any account. 
Even the owner will not venture to use it till it be first liberated 
from the dedication." This is done by a priest, who receives some 
of the fruit for his services. 168 

The Malagasy made use of various taboo signs to indicate 
ownership or possession. One of the commonest of these was a 
tall stick set upright in the ground and with a bunch of grass 
fastened at the top. A road or a path might be tabooed by putting 
a stick across it. 18T 

The Cazembe, an Angola tribe, who keep their beehives on high 
trees in the forest, protect them by fastening a "piece of medicine" 
around the tree trunks. "The natives seldom rob each other, for 
all believe that certain medicines can inflict disease and death; 
and though they consider that these are only known to a few, they 
act on the principle that it is best to let them all alone." 168 The 
Wanika hang painted calabashes before the door of a hut to keep 
thieves away. Shells, dolls, and other objects, placed about plan- 
tations and in fruit trees, serve the same purpose. Death would 
overtake the thief disregarding such signs. "A charm bound to 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 351 

the leg of a fowl, is ample protection for the village." 169 The 
Baganda put fetishes in the roof over the door to protect their 
dwellings from thieves. Fetishes were also placed in the gardens, 
"so that the food became taboo." Anyone stealing it would either 
be caught by the owner or killed by the food. 170 In Kavirondo 
people suspend a ball of clay by a string which is fastened to a 
stick and set up the object in a field as a safeguard against thiev- 
ing. 171 

The Bakongo of the Lower Congo employ various protective 
devices to keep away trespassers. A hoe handle stuck in the ground 
with some manioc cores tied to it will make a thief very thin and ill. 
A stick daubed with paint will cause a man who steals from a farm 
to have a goiter; if the thief is a woman and is enceinte at the 
time, her child will be badly formed. An old basket hung in a 
fruit tree or against a door will give a backache to the thief or 
result in his (or her) sterility. A stone in a basket suspended from 
a fruit tree will afflict with a severe form of hernia anyone who 
steals from the tree or even attempts to climb it. According to 
our authority, such a sign is not a charm in itself but a warning 
to show that a curse has been placed on the object by the owner 
and also to show what kind of complaint a trespasser will ac- 
quire. The natives "consider it unfair to put a curse on the steal- 
ing of an article and not indicate it in some way." 172 

In Gabon a fetish is hung on the plantation fence or from the 
branches of plants in the garden to frighten away marauders. 178 
"Your human policeman can be evaded or outrun if you steal a 
few potatoes from a field, but the spirit policeman cannot be so 
circumvented when he hangs done up in a bit of rag or put inside 
a little horn, on guard over an African farm. He will most cer- 
tainly have you, and you will swell up and 'bust'." The efficacy 
of such prohibitions will be better understood when we consider 
that the plantations are not fenced-in gardens, but open clearings 
a mile or more from any settlement. For weeks at a time no owner 
comes near them ; there is nothing to guard them against robbers 
but the ban. 174 Similar prohibitions make possible the "silent 
trade" in this part of West Africa. You may be in the depths of 
the forest far from human haunts; you notice by the pathside a 
little cleared space neatly laid with plantain leaves ; on it are vari- 
ous articles disposed for sale leaf tobacco, a few yams, and so 
forth. Beside each article are so many stones, beans, or cowries 
to indicate its price. Hanging from a branch above is an image 
of the market god, "who will visit with death any theft from that 



352 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

shop, or any cheating in price given, or any taking away of sums 
left by previous customers." 175 

Among the Ewe of the Slave Coast the priests of a particular 
god know how to manufacture talismans consecrated to that god. 
These they sell at high prices to people who use them to protect 
both their persons and their property. Growing crops, thus safe- 
guarded, are secure from pillage. Talismans are also of service in 
the* "silent trade," for no native would dare to take anything thus 
offered for sale without depositing its stipulated value. 176 In New 
Calabar there used to be a fetish, or ju-ju, king who ranked above 
the civil king in all native matters. The bad characters of the 
town were not afraid to steal when they got a chance, even from 
the civil king, who was purely human as they were. ''But," said 
the fetish king Quakery, in conversation with the Count de Cardi, 
"if I sent round a notice that, if the thieves did not immediately 
bring me the stolen articles my Ju-ju would cause them (the 
thieves) to swell up and burst, you would see how quickly they 
would come to me and deliver up the stolen goods." 177 

The Ekoi of Southern Nigeria set up a bundle of palm leaves 
on a farm as a protection against stealing. A thief who violates 
the taboo will fall sick and die unless a certain dance is per- 
formed as a prophylactic. 178 The natives of the Northern Terri- 
tories of Gold Coast Colony protect their plantations by stones 
marked with crosses and also by feathers, horns, and other objects 
suspended from sticks. "What particular power they are supposed 
to have I know not, and it is likewise, I presume, the ignorance 
of the native on this point which makes for the greater efficacy 
of the 'medicine'." 179 

Slaves from West Africa seem to have carried the property 
taboo to the New World, where it is still found among the 
Negroes of Surinam. 180 It was also known to some of the abor- 
igines. An old writer tells us that the Caribs enclosed their plots 
of land, "onely with a little cotton line drawn out in length, to 
the height of a man's girdle, and they account it a matter of sacri- 
lege, if any passe over the corde, and treade on the possessions of 
his neighbour, and hold it for certaine that whoso violateth this 
sacred thing, shall shortly perish." 181 In former days the people 
of Cumana, Venezuela, protected their plantations by drawing 
round them a single cotton thread. Any one who tampered with 
it was believed to be doomed to a speedy death. 182 The Juris of 
Brazil stretch cotton threads across gaps in the fences surrounding 
their fields to protect the crops from trespassers. 188 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 353 

It is clear that beliefs and practices which we can only describe 
as "superstitions" have often been employed to buttress a system, 
previously existing, of individual ownership. While taboos of 
private property seem to be almost unknown among the Austral- 
ian aborigines and to be very rare among the American Indians, 
they have a wide prevalence in New Guinea, Melanesia, Polynesia, 
and the Indonesian area and they are found in much of Negro 
Africa. To the operation of such taboos we may confidently as- 
sign no slight influence in developing a sense of the sacredness of 
private property among primitive peoples over a large part of the 
world. 



NOTES TO CHAPTER X 

1 See Richard Andree, Ethnographische Parallelen und Vergleiche (Stutt- 
gart, 1878), pp. 114-27; Heinrich Schurtz, Die Speiseverbote (Hamburg, 1893) 
(Sammlung gemeinverstdndlicher wissenschaftlicher Vortrdge, Heft 184); 
Ernest Crawley, "Drinks, Drinking," Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and 
Ethics, V, 72-82 ; idem, "Food," VI, 59-63 ; Edward Westermarck, The Origin 
and Development of the Moral Ideas (London, 1906-1908), II, 290-345 (espe- 
cially 319 ff.). 

2 Sir Baldwin Spencer has pointed out how among the Australian tribes a 
food restriction may become socialized. "A woman, while bearing a child, may 
once have eaten some special food and have, afterwards, been seriously ill. That, 
in itself, would be quite enough reason for a restriction to be placed on that 
particular food in regard to all women in the same condition" (Native Tribes 
of the Northern Territory of Australia [London, 1914], p. 342). With reference 
to the Sema Naga, Mr. Hutton remarks that certain of their food taboos might 
easily have originated in the fact that a given article of diet was believed to 
have been injurious to some member of the group. If his descendants were 
prolific, the avoidance in question might in time be accepted by an entire kindred 
or larger social unit. "One is reminded of the reason given by some Semas for 
reaping by hand only, because one man once slashed his stomach and killed him- 
self when reaping with a dao" (J. H. Hutton, The Angami Nagas [London, 
1921], pp. 396 f.). 

8 See Sir J. G. Frazer, Totemism and Exogamy (London, 1910), IV, 217 ff ; 
H. Webster, Primitive Secret Societies (2d ed., New York, 1932), pp. 65 ff. 

* Mrs. K. L. Parker, The Euahlayi Tribe (London, 1905), p. 23. For the 
removal of a particular taboo it was necessary to bring a boy and the food into 
forcible contact. Thus he was made free to eat the emu only after his father 
and the medicine man had rubbed some of the animal's fat on his joints and 
had put a piece of its flesh in his mouth. "The boy chewed it, making a noise 
as he did so of fright and disgust ; finally he dropped the meat from his mouth, 
making a blowing noise through his lips of 'Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!' After that he 
could eat the flesh" (p. 24). Among the Kurnai a youth was allowed to eat the 
flesh of an animal previously forbidden to him after one of the old men sud- 
denly and unexpectedly smeared some of its cooked fat over his face. This was 
done at the Jeraeil f the tribal initiation ceremony (A. W. Howitt, The Native 
Tribes of South-East Australia [London, 1904], p. 633). 



354 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

5 Sir Baldwin Spencer and F. J. Gillen, The Northern Tribes of Central 
Australia (London, 1904), pp. 167 f., 612. 
6 /&*., pp. 611 f. 

7 Spencer and Gillen, The Native Tribes of Central Australia (London, 
1899), pp. 470 f. ; Spencer, Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Australia, 
pp. 612 f. ; Howitt, Native Tribes of South-East Australia, p. 640. Per contra 
R. Brough Smyth: "Some suppose that cunning old men established the laws 
for the purpose of reserving to themselves those kinds of food which it was 
most difficult to procure, and that one effect of their prohibitions was to make 
the young men expert in hunting ; and it has been suggested that the eating of 
some animals was interdicted in order that the natural increase might not be 
prevented. In looking over the list of animals prohibited to young men, to 
women, and to children, one fails to see, however, any good reasons for the 
selection unless we regard nearly the whole of the prohibitions as having their 
source in superstitious beliefs" (The Aborigines of Victoria [Melbourne, 1878], 
I, 234). 

8 R. H. Mathews, Ethnological Notes on the Aboriginal Tribes of New 
South Wales and Victoria (Sydney, 1905), pp. 59 f. The author points out that 
among these tribes animals and plants which are prolific or numerous are the 
totems of a greater number of men than those which are more or less scarce; 
thus the wallaby, duck, and yam men exceed in number the porcupine and 
pelican men (p. 60). 

9 W. E. Roth, Ethnological Studies among the North-West-Central Queens- 
land Aborigines (Brisbane, 1897), pp. 57, 69 f.; cf. idem, in Records of the Aus- 
tralian Museum, Vol. Ill, No. 3, pp. 168 f. 

" Mrs. K. L. Parker, op. cit., pp. 20 f ., 23 f ., 29 f .. "One old fellow told me 
once that when he was going to a public house he took a miniature form of his 
yunbeai, which was the Kurrea crocodile out of himself and put it safely in 
a bottle of water, in case by any chance he got drunk, and an enemy, knowing 
his yunbeai, coaxed it away. I wanted to see that yunbeai in a bottle, but never 
succeeded" (p. 21). 

11 W. H. R. Rivers, The History of Melanesian Society (Cambridge, 1914), 
I, 154 ff. 

12 George Turner, Samoa (London, 1884), pp. 17 f. See also W. T. Pritch- 
ard, Polynesian Reminiscences (London, 1866), pp. 106 ff. 

13 Charles Hose and William McDougall, The Pagan Tribes of Borneo 
(London, 1912), II, 90 ff. 

14 On guardian spirits among the American Indians see Frazer, Totemism 
and Exogamy, III, 370-456. See also Ruth F. Benedict, "The Concept of the 
Guardian Spirit in North America," Memoirs of the American Anthropological 
Association, No. 29. 

16 Bronislaw Malinowski, The Sexual Life of Savages in North-Western 
Melanesia (New York, 1929), pp. 31 f. The noun bomala, meaning taboo," takes 
the pronominal suffixes of nearest possession, a fact which signifies that a man's 
taboos are linguistically classed with those objects most intimately bound up 
with his person: parts of his body, his personal qualities (as mind and will), 
and his kindred (p. 461). 

16 A. P. Lyons, "The Significance of the Parental State amongst Muruans," 
Man, XXV (1925), 131 f. Cf. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, "Father, Mother, and 
Child," ibid., XXVI (1926), 159 f. With the Muruan custom may be com- 
pared that of the Tallensi of the Northern Territories of the Gold Coast, West 
Africa. These natives impose various prohibitions on the first-born son of a 
man with the idea of emphasizing the relationship between them. The son may 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 355 

not have any contact with his father's clothes, grain-store, bow, or quiver 
symbols of a man's personality until his father dies and he succeeds to the 
status which accompanies possession of them. Nor may son and father eat to- 
gether, lest the fingernail of one scratch the hand of the other. If this hap- 
pened, the son would pine away and probably die. The same penalty would fol- 
low his infringement of the other taboos. See M. Fortes, "Kinship, Incest, and 
Exogamy of the Northern Tribes of the Gold Coast," in L. H. Dudley Buxton 
(editor), Custom Is King. Essays Presented to R. R. Marett (London, 1936), 
p. 247. 

17 George Brown, Melanestans and Polynesians (London, 1910), pp. 72, 126. 
According to A. Hahl, each degree of Iniat has its particular food restrictions 
(Nachrichten iiber Kaiser Wilhelms-Land und den Bismarck- Archipel, XIII, 
[1897], 76). According to B. Danks, a person who ate pork or the forbidden 
kinds of fish would suffer from an inflated stomach and other physical ills, these 
ending in death (Report of the Fourth Meeting of the Australasian Association 
for the Advancement of Science [1892], p. 618). 

18 Rivers, The History of Melanesia^ Society, I, 151 f. A similar belief is 
found in the island of Motlav, not far, from Mota (p. 153). 

19 Dugald Campbell, In the Heart of Bantuland (London, 1922), pp. 92, 95. 

20 A. T. Culwick and G. M. Culwick, Ubena of the Rivers (London, 1935), 
pp. 182 ff. 

21 J. H. Weeks, Among Congo Cannibals (London, 1913), p. 2%. 

22 Idem, Among the Primitive Bakongo (London, 1914), pp. 245 ff. Accord- 
ing to R. E. Dennett, many families observe the inherited taboos relating to 
animal food because their ancestors owed a debt of gratitude to the animals 
which are not now eaten. Various stories are told to account for the abstinence 
thus practiced (Notes on the Folk-Lore of the Fjort [London, 1898], p. 10). 
On these taboos, which are called xina or tschina on the Loango coast, see 
further, Adolf Bastian, Die deutsche Expedition an der Loango-Ktiste (Jena, 
1874-1875), I, 183 f.; E. Pechiiel-Loesche, Volkskunde von Loango (Stuttgart, 
1907), pp. 455-66. 

28 G. C Claridge, Wild Bush Tribes of Tropical Africa (London, 1922), 
pp. 130 f. The author lived for twelve years among these tribes. 

24 P. B. Du Chaillu, Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa 
(London, 1861), pp. 308 f. 

28 R. H. Nassau, Fetichism in West Africa (New York, 1904), pp. 78 f. 

2 Mary H. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (London, 1897), pp. 455 f . 

27 S. S. Farrow, Faith, Fancies, and Fetich, or Yoruba Paganism (London, 
1926), p. 95. 

28 Diedrich Westermann, Die Kpelle (Gottingen and Leipzig, 1921), pp. 56 f. 
The author points out that similar brotherhoods exist among the Mandingo of 
Senegambia. 

29 M. J. Herskovits and Frances S. Herskovits, Suriname Folk-Lore (New 
York, 1936), pp. 36 f. Of the two names for these food taboos kina comes from 
the Bantu (Loango) word tschina, and trefu is of Hebrew origin. 

oj. Jett6, "On the Medicine-Men of the Ten'a," Journal of the Royal 
Anthropological Institute, XXXVII (1907), 172. 

31 F. Boas, in Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 593. 

82 J. E. Calder, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, III (1874), 16. 
Cf. H. Ling Roth, The Aborigines of Tasmania (2d ed., Halifax, England, 
1899), pp. 63, 88. According to another account, the Tasmanians avoided fresh- 
water fish, but did eat marine fish, which were speared in shallow water and 



356 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

were also caught in nets (James Bonwick, Daily Life and Origin of the Tas- 
mamans [London, 1870], pp. 14 f.). 

88 Smyth, The Aborigines of Victoria, I, 237. 

84 Carl Lumholtz, Among Cannibals (New York, 1889), p. 225. The Won- 
konguru of the Lake Eyre district cannot eat fresh pork even when they do not 
know what it is; their stomachs reject it. They can eat bacon, if not too greasy 
(G. Home and G. Alston, Savage Life in Central Australia [London, 1924], 
p. 144). 

38 Spencer and Gillen, The Native Tribes of Central Australia, p. 566. 

36 C. G. Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea (Cambridge, 
1910), p. 580. 

87 Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians, pp. 125 f. 

88 Rivers, The History of Melanesian Society, I, 177. The shark is also 
avoided by the natives of Uripiv, an islet of Malekula in the New Hebrides 
(B. T. Somerville, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXIII [1894], 
381). 

39 R. H. Codrington, The Melanesians (Oxford, 1891), pp. 32 f. 

40 Hugh Low, Sarawak (London, 1848), p. 266. 

41 J. M. van Barckel, in Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-Land-en Volken- 
kunde, XXVI (1881), 431 f. 

42 A. S. Bickmore, in Transactions of the Ethnological Society (n.s., 1869), 
VII, 20. 

48 A. Wirth, in American Anthropologist, X (1897), 364. 

44 Fosberry, in Journal of the Ethnological Society (n.s., 1869), I, 192. 

45 T. C. Hodson, The Naga Tribes of Manipur (London, 1911), p. 182. 

46 C. G. Seligman and Brenda Z. Seligman, The Veddas (Cambridge, 1911), 
pp. 178 ff. The authors think that the avoidance of elephants, leopards, jackals, 
bears, and wild buffaloes is due to the fact that these animals are, and always 
have been, dangerous to hunt by a people so poorly armed as the Vedda ; it was 
safer to hunt deer and venison was more palatable. But this explanation will 
not apply to the avoidance of domestic buffaloes and of both wild and domestic 
fowl. 

47 E. H. Man, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XVIII (1889), 
367. 

48 W. H. R. Rivers, The Todas (London, 1906), pp. 239 f . "The restrictions 
on the use of the milk of the sacred animals have the general characters asso- 
ciated with taboos, and the whole daily ritual of the dairy would seem to be de- 
signed to remove the taboo. It is possible that at one time the milk of the sacred 
buffaloes was not used at all, and that these animals only suckled their calves. 
If the Todas had begun to milk the sacred buffaloes, it is natural that the milk- 
ing and churning should have been accompanied by ritual designed to counteract 
the evils to be expected from the profanation of the sacred substance and the 
breaking of the taboo. In certain circumstances even now the Todas do not 
milk their sacred buffaloes, but allow them to suckle their calves only" (p. 241). 

49 See W. Crooke, "The Veneration of the Cow in India," Folk-Lore, 
XXIII (1912), 286 ff.; B. Laufer, "Some Fundamental Ideas of Chinese Cul- 
ture," Journal of Race Development, V (1914), 167 f . 

50 Gustav Fritsch, Die Eingeborenen Sud-Afrika's (Breslau, 1872), pp. 106 f. 
According to another account, women are forbidden to eat fish, whereas fish, 
swine, hares, and poultry (but not wild fowl) are all "unclean" for men (J. 
Macdonald, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XIX [1890], 279). 
Menstruating women must not drink milk; if they did so, the cattle would die 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 357 

(ibid., XX [1891], 138). Evil consequences are also looked for if people who 
are living the sexual life should drink beestings. Among the Basoga the milk 
of a cow that has calved is taboo, except to boys (presumably not arrived at 
puberty) ; the prohibition continues until the umbilical cord has dropped from 
the calf. (John Roscoe, The Bagesu and Other Tribes of the Uganda Protec* 
torate [Cambridge/ 1924], p. 110). The Baganda do not allow a cow to be milked 
for the first four days after it has calved, but leave the milk for the calf. The 
rule might seem to be dictated by consideration for the calf ; if so, how shall 
we account for the fact that during these four days the owner's wife is not 
allowed to cultivate the garden? (idem, The Baganda [London, 1911], p. 418). 
Among the Bahima of Uganda the milk from a cow that has calved may not be 
drunk by a married person for two or three days. A young boy may do so, 
however. Were the prohibition disregarded, the cow would cease to give milk 
and the calf would die (idem, The Soul of Central Africa [London, 1922], p. 92). 

81 H. A. Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed., London, 1912), 
II, 83 f. 

82 Ibid. f II, 80 ff . The Thonga clearly differentiate between their rejection 
of certain foods because of "disgust" (nyena), as in the case of pigs and snails, 
and of other foods because these are taboo (yila). In the latter class are four 
kinds of birds, the toad, and a species of beetle (II, 82 f.). 

88 Mrs. Eileen J. Krige, The Social System of the Zulu (London, 1936), 
p. 388. 

84 Sir R. F. Burton, The Lake Regions of Central Africa (London, 1860), 
II, 281. 

88 G. A. Haggenmacher, in Petermann's Mittheilungen, Ergdnzungsband, 
Vol. X, No. 47, p. 30. 

86 A. M. Champion, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 
XLII (1912), 81. 

87 W. S. Routledge and Katherine Routledge, With a Prehistoric People 
(London, 1910), pp. 49 f. 

58 John Roscoe, The Northern Bantu (Cambridge, 1915), p. 137. 

89 Philip Paulitschke, Ethnographie Nordost-Afrikas (Berlin, 1893-1896), 
I, 157. 

60 E. Torday and T. A. Joyce, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 
XXXVI (1906), 42. 

61 Torday and Joyce, ibid., p. 279. 

62 Weeks, Among Congo Cannibals f pp. 296 f. 

63 Bastian, Die deutsche Expedition an der Loango-Kuste, I, 185. 
84 Bernhard Schwarz, Kamerun (Leipzig, 1886), pp. 177, 257. 

88 T. E. Bowdich, Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee (London, 
1819), p. 319. According to Miss Kingsley, West Africans "have all a perfect 
horror of drinking milk, holding this custom to be a filthy habit, and saying 
so in unmitigated language" (Travels in West Africa, p. 451). 

86 G. T. Basden, Niger Ibos (London [1938]), p. 230. At Awka in the Ibo 
country men are not allowed to eat snails, though women and children may do 
so (p. 158). 

87 A. J. N. Tremearne, The Tailed Head-Hunters of Nigeria (London, 
1912), p. 78. 

* Alice C. Cook, in American Anthropologist (n.s., 1900), II, 454. 

89 W. B. Grubb, An Unknown People in an Unknown Land (London, 
1911), p. 137. 



358 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

70 W. A. Cook, Through the Wildernesses of Brazil (New York, 1909), 
p. 408. According to Karl von den Steinen, the flesh of deer cannot be eaten 
before it has been "blessed" by a medicine man. Some people will not eat it even 
when this ceremony has been held. The animal is therefore seldom killed. 
Certain kinds of fish, all particularly large and tasty, must also be "blessed" 
before they can be safely eaten. The souls supposed to be incarnated in all the 
tabooed animals are those of deceased medicine men; hence living medicine 
men seem to be specially qualified to remove the taboo (Unter den Naturvolkern 
Zentral-Brasiliens [Berlin, 1894], pp. 491 ff., 511 f.). 

71 Franz Keller, The Amazon and Madeira Rivers (London, 1874), p. 84. 

72 M. W. Stirling, in Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 
No. 117, p. 107. 

78 R. H. Schomburgh, in Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, XV 
(1845), 28 f. 

74 E. F. Im Thurn, Among the Indians of Guiana (London, 1883), p. 368. 

75 W J McGee, in Seventeenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American 
Ethnology, Part I, p. 203. 

76 W. Matthews, in Journal of American Folk-Lore, XII (1899), 5. 

77 F. H. Gushing, quoted by W. Matthews, "Ichthyophobia," ibid., XI 
(1898), 110. A violation of the fish taboo is followed by madness (Matthews, 
loc. tit.). 

78 A. M. Stephen, in American Anthropologist, VI (1893), 357. Linguistic- 
ally, the Navaho belong to the widespread Athapascan stock of the far north. 
The Athapascan tribes, who dwell in well- watered regions, have no fish taboo; 
indeed, they almost subsist on fish for a considerable part of the year. Hence 
it is probable that the Navaho adopted this taboo from the sedentary tribes of 
the Southwest, after their entrance into New Mexico and Arizona (W. Mat- 
thews, in Journal of American Folk-Lore, XI [1898], 111). 

79 J. G. Bourke, On the Border with Crook (New York, 1891), p. 125. 

80 James Adair, History of the American Indians (London, 1775), p. 133. 

81 J. H. Dunbar, in Magasine of American History, V (1880), 323. 

82 H. R. Schoolcraf t, Information Respecting . . . . the Indian Tribes of the 
United States (Philadelphia, 1865), V, 215. 

88 M. Eels, in Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for 1887, 
Part I, p. 622. 

8 * E. H. Man, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XII (1883), 159. 
Puluga also dislikes very much the smell of burning beeswax and manifests his 
displeasure by sending a storm. "Owing to this belief it is a common practice 
secretly to burn wax when a person against whom they bear ill-will is engaged 
in fishing, hunting, or the like, the object being to spoil his sport and cause him 
as much discomfort as possible ; hence arises the saying among them, when sud- 
denly overtaken by a storm, that some one must be burning wax" (p. 154). 

88 E. H. Man, ibid., pp. 153, 172 f . On these Andamanese taboos see also 
A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, The Andaman Islanders (Cambridge, 1933), pp. 116, 
152 ff., 160 f ., 273. 

86 Sir H. H. Johnston, The Kilima-njaro Expedition (London, 1886), p. 425. 
Cf. Joseph Thomson, Through Masai Land (4th ed., London, 1885), p. 445. Ac- 
cording to another account, boiled milk is regularly drunk by sick persons (M. 
Merker, Die Masai [Berlin, 1904], p. 32). 

87 J. A. Meldon, in Journal of the African Society, No. 22, p. 142. 

88 See M. J. Herskovits, "The Cattle Complex in East Africa," American 
Anthropologist (n.s., 1926), XXVIII, 516 ff. According to Sir J. G. Frazer, the 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 359 

reluctance to subject milk to the heat of fire is due to the belief in a sympathetic 
relation between a cow and the milk drawn from her ; the cow would dry up or 
actually perish. See Folk-lore in the Old Testament (London, 1919), III, 118 if. 
The rule which forbids meat and milk to be consumed at the same time or on 
the same day (a rule observed by the Masai, Suk, Nandi, and other East African 
tribes) may likewise be explained by the fear that the contact of the two sub- 
stances in the stomach of the consumer would be injurious, if not fatal, to the 
cows (ibid., Ill, 151 ff.)- 

89 W. E. Roth, "An Inquiry into the Animism and Folk-Lore of the Guiana 
Indians," Thirtieth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 
p. 295. Among the Arawak no food may be eaten after nightfall. Anyone guilty 
of this offense is "invariably" changed into an animal (pp. 184 f., 295). These 
Indians, when at sea or on a big river, are very careful as to what they do with 
the pot-spoon. After being used, it may be washed in the boat, but never is it 
washed in the sea or the river; to do so would cause squalls and storms (p. 267). 

00 A. M. Stephen, in American Anthropologist, VI (1893), 357 f. 

91 D. Jenness, "The Life of the Copper Eskimo," Report of the Canadian 
Arctic Expedition, 1913-18, XII, 182 f. "Nature has ordained that certain ani- 
mals shall live in the sea and others on the land. The Eskimo therefore must 
follow the same distinction, and keep the products of the two regions separate. 
He is a little vague as to who enforces the taboo. Sometimes he says that the 
animals themselves would be offended and avenge themselves on the trans- 
gressors, who would then die of starvation; sometimes that the shades of the 
Eskimo dead would take offense and wreak their vengeance by sending terrible 
storms or a plague of sickness and death, especially when the natives are living 
on the sea ice; at other times, again, it is a deity who dwells at the bottom of 
the sea and controls the supply of seals, or another living in the sky, or one of 
the many spirits that dwell in cliffs and tide-cracks and similar places, in so far 
as they have any fixed abode. But whatever the manner in which he thinks the 
taboo will be enforced and the same Eskimo will believe in every one of them 
there is no doubt whatever in his mind that punishment will inevitably follow 
disobedience. Woe betide the Eskimos if they fail to observe the due restric- 
tions ; sooner or later misfortune will overtake them in some form or another, 
and then the sin, however secret, is sure to come to light. Even if the wrong- 
doer does not confess immediately, as often happens, yet the shamans will soon 
discover his transgression when they invoke their familiar spirits and inquire 
into the cause of the misfortunes" (p. 182). 

92 D. Jenness, ibid., p. 98. 

93 E. W. Hawkes, The Labrador Eskimo (Ottawa, 1916) (Geological Survey 
Memoir, No. 91), p. 133. 

94 F. Boas, in Sixth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 595. 
These Eskimo also apply such "alternating prohibitions" to their occupations. 
They may not go out to capture walrus until they have finished working on gar- 
ments of reindeer skin, and after the beginning of the walrus hunt no one may 
make such garments. When two natives were asked to make a sleeping bag of 
reindeer skin, they refused to do so, for it was then the walrus season. They 
"would both die, and no more walrus could be caught" (C. F. Hall, Life with 
the Esquimaux [London, 1864], II, 321). A distinction between products of the 
sea and those of the land is also drawn by some Queensland tribes, among whom, 
however, it relates to the nature of the punishment provided for young people 
violating the food taboos imposed upon them before their arrival at puberty. 
To eat the forbidden sea foods makes the culprit's hair turn gray. To eat the 
forbidden comestibles of terrestrial origin makes him sick, because the par- 
ticular animal, whose flesh he so recklessly consumed, will build its nest or lay 



360 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

its eggs inside the back of his neck. See W. E. Roth, North Queensland 
Ethnography Bulletin, No. 11 (Records of the Australian Museum, Vol. VII, 
No. 2, p. 76). 

95 Spencer and Gillen, Native Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 167-211; 
iidem f Northern Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 283-327. 

A. C. Haddon, Head-Hunters, Black, White, and Brown (London, 1901), 
pp. 270 ff. The Fuluaari men are required to remain strictly continent while 
they guard the growing crops. They may not even look at a woman; if they 
happen to pass one, it behooves them to cast down their eyes modestly (loc. cit.). 

9i J. H. Holmes, In Primitive New Guinea (London, 1924), pp. 235 f . 

98 Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea, pp. 576 f . 

99 B. Malinowski, in Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 
XXXIX (1915), 586. 

100 /(few, Coral Gardens and Their Magic (London, 1935), I, 301 if. Among 
these natives there is also a protective taboo to prevent the theft of ripening 
fruits or nuts so far from the village that they cannot be watched. A small 
parcel of medicated substance is placed on a stick, near or on the tree, and 
a spell is recited by the magician. The spell may be regarded as a "condi- 
tional curse," which would fall upon anyone who touched the fruit and bring 
upon him a disease. Sometimes a wood spirit is invited to reside on the stick 
and substance and to guard the fruit (idem, Argonauts of the Western Pacific 
[London, 1922], pp. 425 f.). 

101 Brown, Melanesians and Polynesians, p. 126. 

102 John Inglis, in Journal of the Ethnological Society, III (1854), 62. 

108 Emma Hadfield, Among the Natives of the Loyalty Group (London, 
1920), pp. 65 f. 

104 Thomas Williams, Fiji and the Fijians (3d ed., London, 1870), pp. 198 f . 

105 Rivers, The History of Melanesian Society, I, 388 f . 

106 James Cook and James King, A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (London, 
1784), I, 410 f. William Mariner describes the ceremonial feasting and kava 
drinking by which a taboo, laid on hogs, fowls, and coconuts, was lifted. Such 
a restriction might last as long as eight months. A few plantations were not 
subject to it, in order that these foods might be available for occasional rites 
and also for the consumption of the upper classes (John Martin, An Account 
of the Natives of the Tonga Islands .... from the Extensive Communications 
of Mr. William Mariner [3d ed., Edinburgh, 1827], III, 117 ff., 173 f.). 

107 J. A. Moerenhout, Voyages aux isles du grand octan (Paris, 1837), I, 531. 
108 Eyriaud des Vergnes, in Revue maritime et coloniale, LII (1877), 730. 

The Marquesans had a regular closed season for the bonito ( Moerenhout, op. cit., 
I, 516 f.). Robert Louis Stevenson comments on the "thoroughly sensible ends" 
for which devilfish, when growing scarce upon the reef, and coconut palms, 
when suffering by the plucking of green nuts, might be made taboo for a time. 
While many Marquesan taboos appear absurd enough, more often they were 
"wise and needful restrictions" (In the South Seas, Part I, chap. vi). 

109 w. D. Alexander, A Brief History of the Hawaiian People (New York, 
1899), 52 f. 

110 J. S. Polack, Manners and Customs of the New Zealanders (London, 
1840), I, 275 f. The seaside was often tabooed by certain tribes which pos- 
sessed the sole right of procuring shellfish on the beach (loc. cit.). 

111 J. [S.] Kubary, Ethnographische Beitrage zur Kenntniss der Karolin- 
ischen Inselgruppe und Nachbarschaft, Heft I, Die social en Einrichtungen der 
Pelauer (Berlin, 1885), pp. 85 f . 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 361 

112 Otto Finsch, Ethnologische Erfahrungen und Belegstucke aus der 
Siidsee (Wien, 1893) (Separat Abgedrukt aus den Annalen des K. K. Natur- 
historischen Hofmuseums in Wien, Band III), pp. 305 f. 

113 Hodson, The Naga Tribes of Manipur, pp. 167 f . ; cf . idem, "The 'Genna' 
amongst the Tribes of Assam/' Journal of the Anthropological Institute, 
XXXVI (1906), 94. 

* T. J. Alldridge, The Sherbro and Its Hinterland (London, 1901), p. 133. 

115 Dorothy Cator, Everyday Life among the Head-Hunters and Other 
Experiences from East to West (London, 1905), p. 192. See also B. Wallis, 
"The 'Poro' Society of the Mendi," Journal of the African Society, No. 14, 
p. 188. 

116 F. W. Butt-Thompson, West African Secret Societies (London, 1929), 
p. 141. 

117 Robert Fitz-Roy (editor), Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His 
Majesty's Ships "Adventure" and "Beagle" (London, 1839), II, 180. 

118 W. E. Roth, in Thirtieth Annual Report of the Bureau of American 
Ethnology, p. 292. The belief referred to is illustrated by the Warrau story 
of a party of Indians who did nothing but hunt baboons until the grandfather 
of all baboons killed every one of them with his sharp claws. He and his spirit 
descendants were killed in turn, but before dying they choked and coughed a 
great deal and the grandfather swore that this choking and coughing should 
afflict the people forever. "We Warrau Indians have known the sickness for a 
long time as the 'baboon cough/ but you white people are ignorant of this, and 
persist in calling it whooping cough" (pp. 292 f.). 

119 W J McGee, in Seventeenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American 
Ethnology, Part I, p. 191. 

120 J. W. Fewkes, "Property-Right in Eagles among the Hopi," American 
Anthropologist (n.s., 1900), II, 702. The Maricopa Indians consider eagle feath- 
ers, which are worn as ornaments in men's hair, to be exceedingly dangerous 
until treated by a shaman. He first puffed the smoke of four cigarettes over 
them and then sucked each one, in order to remove their "poison." After puri- 
fying a feather in this manner, the shaman tied it to a young man's hair. Even 
then its proud possessor would not dare to touch a drinking utensil after having 
touched the feather he wore. If he did so, people who used the utensil would 
get sick. See Leslie Spier, Yuman Tribes of the Gila River (Chicago, 1933), 
pp. 291 f. 

121 See J. A. MacCulloch, "First fruits (Introductory and Primitive)/' 
Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, VI, 41-45; E. N. Fallaize, 
"Harvest," ibid., VI, 520-25; Andrew Lang, Magic and Religion (London, 1901), 
pp. 257-69. For an extensive collection of the evidence see Sir J. G. Frazer, 
Spirits of the Corn and of the Wild (London, 1912), (The Golden Bough, 3d ed., 
Part V), II, 48-86, 109-37; idem, Aftermath (London, 1936), pp. 402-7. See, 
further, Max Gluckmann, "Social Aspects of First-Fruits Ceremonies among 
the South-Eastern Bantu," Africa, XI (1938), 25-41, with a full bibliography. 

122 Lorimer Fison, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XIV (1885), 
27. "The nanga was the 'bed' of the ancestors, that is, the spot where their de- 
scendants might hold communion with them ; the wbaki were the rites celebrated 
in the nanga, whether of initiating the youths, or of presenting the first-fruits, 
or of recovering the sick, or of winning charms against wounds in battle" (Sir 
Basil H. Thomson, The Fijians [London, 1908], p. 147). 

12 See Martin-Mariner, op. cit. (3d ed.), II, 168-73, for a description of 
the ceremony. 

* William Ellis, Polynesian Researches (2d ed., London, 1831), I, 350. 



362 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

125 George Turner, Nineteen Years in Polynesia (London, 1861), p. 327. 

126 Edward Tregear, The Maori Race (Wanganui, New Zealand, 1904), 
pp. 87 ff. Cf. Old New Zealand, by a Pakeka Maori (London, 1884), pp. 103 f. 
In the autumn, when the kumara was gathered, all paths leading to a village 
and its cultivated fields were closed off by being made tapu. The blockade pre- 
vented the report of an unusually fine crop of kumara from reaching outsiders, 
who might break in and try to carry it off by main force. Sometimes this hap- 
pened and the cultivators lost their lives (ibid., pp. 133 f .). 

* Junod, The Life of a South African Tribe (2d ed.), I, 394, 404; II, 28, 
403 f. 

128 C. W. Hobley, Bantu Beliefs and Magic (London, 1922), p. 74. 

129 Mary H. Kingsley, West African Studies (1st ed., London, 1899), 
pp. 174 f., 450. 

180 See Sir J. G. Frazer, Psyche's Task (2d ed., London, 1913), pp. 20-43; 
Westermarck, Moral Ideas, II, 59-69; idem, "Die religiose Sanktionierung des 
Eigentums auf tieferen Kulturstufen," Zeitschrift fur Socialwissenschaft, X 
(1907), 81-92. 

131 W. E. Roth, North Queensland Ethnography Bulletin, No. 11 (Records 
of the Australian Museum, Vol. VII, No. 2, pp. 75 ff.). Spittle, being also an 
intimate part of a man's personality, is sometimes used to protect his possessions. 
In the D'Entrecasteaux Islands a man expectorates on his fruit trees, making 
his saliva red by chewing betel nut; then bloody pustules will form on the head 
and body of a thief and he may even die (D. Jenness and A. Ballantyne, The 
Northern D'Entrecasteaux [Oxford, 1920], p. 74). When the Barotse, a South 
African tribe, "do not want a thing touched they spit on straws and stick them 
all about the object" (Lionel Decle, Three Years in Savage Africa [London, 
1900], p. 77). Among the Bakongo, "if a person is called away from his meal, 
he will pretend to spit on it, and no one will dare to touch the food while he 
is away" (Weeks, Among the Primitive Bakongo, p. 239). 

182 A. C. Haddon, in Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition 
to Torres Straits, VI, 226. 

188 Seligman, The Melanesians of British New Guinea, pp. 574 ff. ; cf . 
pp. 136 ff. (Koita). 

134 Seligman, op. cit. f pp. 643 f ., quoting the Rev. Copland King. 

135 B. Malinowski, in Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia, 
XXXIX (1915), 586 f. 

186 F. E. Williams, Orokaiva Society (Oxford, 1930), pp. 328 f. The author 
saw an eight-of-diamonds wedged in a split stick and set up in a village to 
forbid playing cards. It had been erected by a man of influence who had "some- 
how acquired conscientious scruples regarding the forbidden game" (p. 324). 

187 Jenness and Ballantyne, op. cit. f pp. 74 ff. 

188 R. F. Fortune, Sorcerers of Dobu (London, 1932), pp. 138 ff. The pro- 
tection accorded by these taboos is not always adequate. Sometimes a daring 
thief will recite his own incantation over a tree from which he has stolen, trust- 
ing that the result will be to "infect" the owner if the owner's "infection" 
catches him (p. 83). 

189 Margaret Mead, Growing Up in New Guinea (New York, 1930), p. 320. 
140 R. Parkinson, Im Bismarck- Archipel (Leipzig, 1887), p. 144. 

141 A. I. Hopkins, In the Isles of King Solomon (London, 1928), p. 128. 

142 B. T. Somerville, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXVI 
(1897), 404 f. 

148 Ibid., p. 387. At Rubiana, while any owner of a coconut grove can raise 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 363 

a hope, the effects of violating it may be frustrated by paying twenty shell rings, 
no more and no less, to the proprietor. We are told of a certain native, with 
decidedly capitalistic tendencies, who once took advantage of the owner's absence 
to enter a coconut grove and, with the aid of his numerous wives, to rob it of 
several thousand nuts. All he paid to the proprietor was the twenty rings, which 
did not begin to cover the cost of the depredation (ibid., p. 388). 

144 W. H. R. Rivers, Medicine, Magic, and Religion (London, 1924), 
pp. 32 ff. Rivers and A. M. Hocart found in Eddy stone Island about a hundred 
examples of such conjoined processes of taboo and medicine. 

145 Codrington, The Melanesians, p. 216. The soloi signs of the Banks 
Islands protect a man's property only from persons who do not belong to the 
society of which it is the badge. Consequently, a man who belongs to one large 
society would find its badge of little service, since his property would still be at 
the mercy of all the members of his society. However, a man usually belongs to 
several societies, and by combining their badges he may be able to protect his 
property against everybody (Rivers, The History of Metanesian Society, I, 
92). 

146 W. Gray, in Report of the Fourth Meeting of the Australasian Associa- 
tion for the Advancement of Science (1892), p. 652. 

M A. Liversidge, in Man, XXI (1921), 133. 

148 Raymond Firth, Primitive Polynesian Economy (London, 1939), pp. 204- 
12, 271. 

149 E. M. Loeb, "History and Traditions of Niue," Bemice P. Bishop Mu- 
seum Bulletin, No. 32, p. 172. 

180 E. W. Gifford, "Tongan Society," ibid., No. 61, p. 343. 

151 Charles Wilkes, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition 
(Philadelphia, 1845), II, 33. Cf. Ellis, Polynesian Researches (2d ed.), Ill, 201. 
The early missionaries, Tyerman and Bennet, saw coconut trees with patches of 
leaves tied about the stems and prohibited to all except their owners. They 
were told that such a prohibition was seldom violated. When that happened, the 
delinquent was banished to a desolate island "as unworthy of honest society" 
(James Montgomery, Voyages and Travels Round the World by the Rev. Daniel 
Tyerman and George Bennet [2d ed., London, 1841], p. 23). In this case the 
punishment involved seems to have been only at human hands, but doubtless the 
trees were, or had been, also protected by the fear of a non-human punishment 
for interfering with them. 

152 Turner, Samoa, pp. 185 ff. At the time of Turner's writing belief in the 
power of these taboos had not been eradicated, and the sickness and dying hours 
of more than one hardened thief still brought out a confession of his guilt 
(p. 188). 



184 Mrs. T. W. Edgeworth David, Funafuti; or Three Months on a Coral 
Island (London, 1899), p. 197. 

185 J. S. Gardiner, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXVII 
(1898), 409. 

186 Herman Melville, Typee (new ed., Boston, 1892), p. 325. 

187 In the South Seas, Part I, chap. vi. According to Ellis, a man who 
places a taboo on his own property has himself to observe the restriction, "so 
that, during its continuance, he dare not appropriate to his own use the smallest 
portion of the article thus prohibited" (Polynesian Researches [2d ed.], Ill, 314). 

188 Elsdon Best, "Notes on the Custom of 'Rahui'," Journal of the Poly- 
nesian Society, XIII (1904), 83-88. See also Firth, Primitive Economics of the 



364 TABOO: A SOCIOLOGICAL STUDY 

New Zealand Maori, pp. 247-52. An early authority on the Maori enumerates 
among the things which might be made tapu, property left in a house not occu- 
pied by its owner, a house containing seeds, a canoe lying on the beach, a tree 
selected for future working up into a canoe, and a sweet potato (kumara) plan- 
tation (Ernest Dieffenbach, Travels in New Zealand [London, 1843], II, 100 f.). 

159 J. G. F. Riedel, De sluik-en kroesharige rassen tusschen Selebes en 
Papua ('s Gravenhage, 1886), pp. 61 f. (Amboina), 114 f. (Ceram), 317 (Luang- 
Sermata Islands). 

160 Paul Arndt, Mythologie, Religion und Magie in Sikagebiet (ostl. M.it- 
telflores) (Emde, Flores, [1932]), p. 95. On the a ta busung f or magician, see 
ibid ., pp. 290 ff. 

i A. R. Wallace, The Malay Archipelago (10th ed., London, 1890), I, 
149f.;cf. 11,451. 

162 H. O. Forbes, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XIV (1885), 
125. 

168 Sir Spenser St. John, Life in the Forests of the Far East (2d ed., Lon- 
don, 1863), I, 199. 

**W. H. Furness, The Home-Life of the Borneo Head-Hunters (Phila- 
delphia, 1902), p. 115. 

166 E. H. Man, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute , XV (1886), 449. 
1M Robert Percival, An Account of the Island of Ceylon (London, 1803), 

p. 198. 

167 James Sibree, Madagascar before the Conquest (London, 18%), p. 172. 
See, further, Arnold van Gennep, Tabou et tottmisme d Madagascar (Paris, 
1904), pp. 183-93. 

ics David Livingston, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa 
(London, 1857), p. 285. 

169 Charles New, Life, Wanderings and Labours in Eastern Africa (Lon- 
don, 1873), p. 106. 

170 Roscoe, The Baganda, p. 15. 

"i C W. Hobley, in Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXXIII 
(1903), 343. 

172 Weeks, Among the Primitive Bakongo, p. 239. See also J. Merolla da 
Sorrento, "A Voyage to Congo," in John Pinkerton, A General Collection of 
Voyages and Travels (London, 1814), XVI, 238. 

ITS Nassau, Fetichism in West Africa, p. 85. 

"* Mary H. Kingsley, West African Studies (2d ed., London, 1901), p. 397. 
The fetishes placed about a farm or a house "are said to blow to pieces and 
utterly destroy the thief ; but the owner of the farm or house will walk upon 
them without a qualm, whilst the thief will walk long miles to avoid them. 
Moreover, should the owner make a mistake and set his fetish against one who 
is not guilty, or if he attempts to use it spitefully, the fetish force invoked will 
not only not attack the innocent, but will turn and smite the owner with the 
evils he has sought unjustly to induce in the guiltless" (Butt- Thompson, West 
African Secret Societies, p. 143). 

176 Miss Kingsley, op. cit. f p. 408. 

176 A. B. Ellis, The Ewe-speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West 
Africa (London, 1890), pp. 91 f. 

177 Le Comte C. N. de Cardi, "Ju-ju Laws and Customs in the Niger Delta/' 
Journal of the Anthropological Institute, XXIX (1899), 51 f. 

" P. A. Talbot, In the Shadow of the Bush (London, 1912), p. 296. 



ECONOMIC ASPECTS OF TABOO 365 

9 A. W. Cardinall, The Natives of the Northern Territories of the Gold 
Coast (London [1920]), p. 86. 

180 K. Martin, in Bijdragen tot de Taal-Land-en Volkenkunde van Neder- 
landsch-Indie, XXXV (1886), 30. 

18 * Peter Martyr, De Nouo Orbe, or the Historie of the West Indies (Lon- 
don, 1612), p. 296. (Decade VIII, chap. vi). 

182 C. F. Ph. von Martins, Von dem Rechtszustande unter den Urein- 
wohnern Brasiliens (Munich, 1832), pp. 37 f . 

188 Idem, Beitrage zur Ethnographie und Sprachenkunde Amerika's, zumal 
Brasiliens (Leipzig, 1867), I, 86. In Dutch Guiana a wisp of straw or a piece 
of cloth, if laid close to an article, will protect it from interference during the 
owner's absence (W. E. Roth, in Thirty-eighth Annual Report of the Bureau of\ 
American Ethnology, p. 565). 



CHAPTER XI 
SOCIAL ASPECTS OF TABOO 



THE TABOO system, which reached the acme of development in 
Polynesia, did not long survive the opening up of the islands to 
European settlement. Its innumerable restrictions had by this time 
become almost unbearable for the common people and scarcely 
less so for the chiefs and priests who were its beneficiaries. In 
several of the island groups, instead of being slowly and silently 
abrogated, it was ended by a revolution. 

The first missionaries to the South Seas were sent out in the 
ship "DufF ' by the (London) Missionary Society. They landed 
in 1797 at Tahiti. Pomare I, the king of the island, received them 
cordially, but years passed before their work of proselytization 
met any success. The first convert was Pomare II in 1812; he 
was then an exile on the neighboring island of Moorea. The king 
exhibited the sincerity of his conversion in a striking manner. 
One day when a turtle had been presented to him he ordered that 
this sacred animal, which had always been cooked over a sacred 
fire within the precincts of a temple and a part of whose flesh had 
been invariably offered to the idol, should be baked in the royal 
kitchen and served without the sacrificial act. "The king cut up 
the turtle and began to eat it, inviting some that sat at meat with 
him to do the same ; but no one could be induced to touch it, as 
they expected every moment to see him either expire or writhe 
in strong convulsions. The king endeavoured to convince his 
companions that their idea of the power of the gods was altogether 
imaginary and that they had been the subjects of complete delu- 
sion ; but the people could not believe him." The spread of the new 
religion was accelerated by the bold act of the priest of the temple 
in the district where the missionaries resided. Of his own free 
will and without any prompting by them, he publicly burned the 
idols in his charge. "The varied emotions of hope and fear, of 
dread and expectation, with a strange air of mysterious fore- 
boding, agitating the bosoms of the multitude, were strongly 
marked in the countenances of the spectators ; resembling, perhaps 

366 



SOCIAL ASPECTS OF TABOO 367 

in no small degree, the feeling depicted in the visages of the 
assembled Israelites, when the prophet Elijah summoned them to 
prove the power of Baal ; or to acknowledge the omnipotence of 
the Lord God of Israel." This sacrilege, which the gods failed to 
punish in any way, shook the faith of the people in them, and it 
was not long before idols, temples, and altars were overthrown 
and used as firewood throughout Moorea. In 1815 Pomare II 
returned to Tahiti and reascended the throne of the island. The 
decisive defeat of a rebel army, whose leaders were opposed to 
the new religion, was followed by the speedy extirpation of the 
heathen cults. 1 

In the Hawaiian Islands the abolition of the taboo system 
late in 1819 was the work of the youthful Kamehameha II 
(Liholiho), who had succeeded his father only a few months 
previously. His action was influenced by knowledge of what 
Pomare II had done in Tahiti. Still more influential was the 
realization, on the part of both the king and his advisers, that the 
foreigners who visited the Islands after Cook's discovery of them 
constantly violated the taboos without suffering any evil effects. 
The leading chiefs, together with the high priest and the late king's 
two queens, had lost all faith in the power of their ancient deities 
and secretly resolved to make away with the taboo system. Kame- 
hameha I had rigidly enforced it as a means of political control, 
but once its supernatural basis was undermined it could not long 
survive his death. 

Immediately after his accession, Kamehameha II sounded out 
several of his principal chiefs, who announced their purpose not to 
observe any more taboos. Though several priests declared that 
the gods would punish any neglect of the time-honored ordinanc