Encyclopedia of taboos e-book (English)

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Encyclopedia of taboos | Lynn Holden | ISBN 1–85109–348–6 | 1MB | Format .chm

The word taboo derives from the Tongan tabu and is related to the more general Polynesian word, tapu, and the Hawaiian kapu. It became a familiar term in Europe after it was mentioned by Captain James Cook in his journal describing his third voyage around the world. He was introduced to the expression in 1777 in the Tonga, or Friendly, Islands. The literal meaning of the word is simply “marked off”, or “off-limits”, possibly a combination of ta (to mark) and pu (exceedingly). Unfortunately, the term was interpreted by early anthropologists such as William Robertson Smith and James Frazer as a form of superstition, or magic, and became a repository for all that remained inexplicable in preliterate cultures. It took later scholars like Mary Douglas and Edmund Leach to show how taboos are just as prevalent in the industrialised West. Far from being remnants of a distant time or place, a product of supposedly “primitive” thought, taboos are a crucial part of our, or indeed any, society, determining how people must and must not behave.

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