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  Taboo comes from the Polynesian word tapu which means ‘marked off’. Taboos are actions that are prohibited by custom, but they can also be people, places or objects. The ritual quality of taboo means that any contact with forbidden persons or things is seen as fraught with mystical danger. They are regarded as imbued with either overwhelming or dangerous powers. Menstruation is an example of a condition subject to widespread taboos. The assumed possibility of contamination means that complex avoidance procedures often have to be observed. Restrictions on sexual intercourse, contact with food and objects, or physical segregation are extremely widespread.

Structuralists suggested that taboos can be seen as categories which help to exclude objects or conditions that do not fit into a particular society\'s scheme of the universe. If categories cut up the continuum of the world around us, taboos are the uncategorized areas that fall in between. In this way taboos order the universe in the same way conceptual categories do.

There is broad agreement among anthropologists that the taboos current in any society are those that relate to objects and actions most significant for social order. Each form of ritual avoidance can be related to the context in which it occurs, as part of systems of social control. CL

See also cannibalism; caste; incest; structuralism.Further reading M. Douglas, Purity and Danger; , Edmund Leach, Culture and Communication.



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