“The real taboos can't even be talked about”

by Jenny Friedrich-Freksa

Taboo (Issue I/2021)

-

Photo: Max Lautenschläger


It would be nigh on impossible to live without breaking a single taboo from anywhere around the globe: In Ghana you shouldn't sing while bathing, in Madagascar no pork should be taken onto the beach and in Sierra Leone you shouldn't talk to anyone about their age. Even in romantic relationships many people don't know how old their partners really are. All of these are cultural taboos, rules that societies have to respect. Often they have their roots in religious tales from long ago or originate from superstitions.

Some taboos are universal, such as the commandment that applies all over the world: “Thou shalt not kill,” or the incest taboo. “There is not a single culture that does not prohibit incest,” explains the French doctor and psychoanalyst Caroline Eliacheff, “despite this, it has not been possible to make it disappear.”

In this issue we deal with big and small taboos, those that are understood worldwide and those that are culturally specific. And we unravel where they come from: The connection between power and prohibition is the core of taboo, says American anthropologist Manvir Singh, adding that taboos are often related to loyalty. In order to forge solidarity within a group, members stick to agreed rules and label certain types of behaviour as taboo, for example making certain symbols - for example a flag - widely reviled.

But the real taboos, scientists say, cannot even be talked about. Everything else, all the outraged remarks that “that's totally not ok” or “that's totally taboo” are often applied to things which aren't as beyond the pale as they seem. But when it comes to the true taboos, we all go silent.



similar articles

Tabu (Books)

Fake names and dark secrets

By

The graphic novel “Spit three times” by the artist Davide Reviati recalls Italy in the 1960s - and shows how susceptible people are to prejudice.

more


The better America (Topic: Canada)

“Power is very illusionary”

by Adrienne Clarkson

A former refugee assumes the highest political office in the country: A conversation with the former Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson.

more


Taboo (Theory)

Detained

By Sohela Karisma Surajpal

No other African country has as many people behind bars as South Africa. An indictment, argues our author, and good reason to ask whether the prison system is in keeping with our times.

more


Taboo (World report)

Culture on all channels

by Doris Akrap

The Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed massive restrictions on global cultural relations. How cultural institutes are facing unprecedented challenges.

more


Taboo (Topic: Taboo)

A belated coming out

by Leo Boix

On finally telling my father the truth about my homosexuality.

more


Taboo (Topic: Taboo)

“I knew it was a big deal”

an interview with Eric Ben-Artzi

The former risk officer Eric Ben-Artzi helped uncover false accounting at Deutsche Bank. A conversation about the difficulties of exposing his employer.

more