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Taboo - those things that must not be spoken, must not be done. Says who? - MDragonwillow.

Customs are those activities that have been approved by a social group and have been passed on from generation to generation until they become a part of our habits. However, customs vary from culture to culture and the simplest of customary action in one's own society can be misinterpreted in the other. For example, in Western states, it is quite customary to greet each other while shaking hands while in the Asiatic societies bowing down before a stranger is regarded as a sign of goodwill. Hence, the traditional values in our culture may be considered very strange by another.

When an action or activity violates behaviour considered appropriate by a social group, it is labelled as a 'taboo,' a word that we have borrowed from the Polynesian people of the South Pacific. An act that is taboo is forbidden, prohibited, and those who transgress may be ostracized by others or can be killed covering the dire consequences.

The marriage of close-blood relatives is prohibited majorly everywhere in the contemporary civilisation while in earlier societies it was quite common. The ancient gods of Egypt, Iris and Osiris, brother and sister, provided an example for royal couples, as pharaohs commonly married their sisters.

Polygamy is prohibited in modern civilisation but their are still many religious groups in every nation who justify plural marriages as being ordained by the deity they worship. The history of monarchs all over the world is replete with polygamy. The great Solomon who is credited for the world's greatest love poetry is said to have practiced polygamy.

Adultery, an act of infidelity on the part of a married individual, is one of the most universally recognised taboos. The code of Moses condemned the parties involved in the act to death. The Hindu religious principles orders both man and woman to be humiliated,mutilated or killed. In ancient Egypt, the male offender was castrated and woman's nose was cut off. In ancient Greece, the guilty pair might be killed by dragging beging horses or being starved. With time, the Greeks reduced the severity of punishment. The laws in Old Scandinavia permitted the offended husband to castrate his wife's lover and to kill his spouse. While adulterers may still be dealt quite harshly but in the Western societies, the act of infidelity is regarded with great tolerance. Many of the societies there do not consider it necessary as grounds for getting divorced. Although there are many taboos but not all of them persists as societies continue to evolve. Acts that were considered forbidden at one time developed into an acceptable social activity. For example, seeing a couple kissing in public would arouse criticism from public but the contemporary societies have now accepted it to some extent.

As the world grows smaller because of modern transportation and it's diverse inhabitants encounter people from different cultures more often than ever before in the history of the human species, it becomes increasingly difficult to condemn one person's custom as another's taboo. Within a nation such as USA which has always endeavoured to maintain a demorcatic, pluralistic society, an influx of immigrants from Asia and Africa, which began in the 1970s, has made the task of balancing the cultural variety with traditional and the mainstream American values more and more difficult.

Barbara Crosette, writing in The New York Times ( 1999 ), tells of refugee from Afghanistan who was arrested in Maine when he was seen kissing his baby boy's genitals. The father was just exhibiting a traditional expression of love that had been long practiced in the culture, but to his neighbours and police, he was abusing child. Here, we can see that how a traditional activitiy in a family can also be viewed as a taboo.

Many anthropologists and historians have expressed their views that in both polygamy or polyandry, the women involved in the union probably had been captives before they were wives. There are a number of reasons as to why these practices continued to persist over. Some societies practiced female infanticide which created a scarcity of women. Women of the conquered foe were usually considered as the spoils of war. They were dragged off as unwilling mates of the victors. The contemporary societies have well recognised monogamy to be the best practiced. There existed a taboo where the marriage was not regarded to be solemnized until the first child is born, and if no child is born the man is free to leave the woman. As civilsation of tribes developed, the raid on a distant group of humans that resulted in the capture of a woman who was forced to participate against her will in an instant marriage. True courtship practices between the sexes didn't exist to any great extent, and feelings of fondness or affection, if they entered into the equation at all, resulted from compatibility extended over a period of time. With the inclusion of manners, young men and women sought to make themselves attractive to the members of the opposite sex. Rules of exogamy, which denied marriage between persons of the same bloodline, and the laws of endogamy, which prohibited marriage with any persons except those of the same bloodline, arose to define the pool of eligible mates from which young people could choose.

Getting tattooed yourself is also regarded as a taboo but we can find people doing it very much in the contemporary times. It is essential for a girl to cry at her wedding as a part of the marriage ritual just to show her modesty. Courtship by capture has been a taboo in society but it has become a part of the modern marriage system. In Ireland, a marriage is considered scarcely legal unless the bride attempts to escape and the bridegroom overtakes and captures her. Earlier, purchase by marriage got highly prevalent in Europe but now this has become a taboo in modern societies. Among many early peoples, valuable presents were given to the groom's family by the bride's parents, this custom later took place the form of a social taboo called dowry. Bartering of woman in marriage still exists as a taboo in some primitive regions. Infant betrothals still exists as a wrong practice in many countries. Determining one's own marriage partner based on mutual love was not appreciated by elders but now people are accepting it as well. Live-in relationship has become a trend of the modern era and the apex court in India has also recognised it. Sneaking away of partners at night in order to obtain privacy was not acclaimed in tribal societies but now pre-marital courtship has become a feature of the modern civilsation. Use of words like sex, sex education and romance etc. are immediately hushed when made out in public. In the primitive societies, the partners which eloped to wed each other were socially outcasted but now the partners are free to get married at their wills if they have or crossed the adult age group. The partners kissing each other in public is also not regarded to be a part of good etiquette.

The taboos that a woman has to face around menstruation need not be explained as they are themselves the reflection of the conservative outlook of society. A widow isn't allowed to lead a normal life as she is expected to continually mourn over the loss of her husband's death is also a persistent taboo. Racial discrimination also exists as a taboo between the societies of the West and the East.

The Sepoy mutiny of 1857 was also instigated by a taboo where both the Hindus and Muslims refused to bite the greased cartridge as it was rumoured to have greased with the fat of cow and pig. Hindus considered cow to be sacred while Muslims considered pig eating as a taboo. The Kala Pani represents the proscription of the over reaching seas in Hinduism. According to this prohibition, crossing the seas to foreign lands causes the loss of one's social respectability, as well as the putrefaction of one's cultural character and posterity. Later this taboo lost support due to many people travelling abroad. Untouchability also exists as a taboo from the primitive times and is still present today in some conservative societies. Inter-caste marriages is still prohibited in Hindu societies but the scenario has begun to change. In Thailand and Arab countries never point your shoes to another person. The shoe or your foot is unclean part of the body. In African tribal chiefs, make sure that your head is not above his. Cambodians believe that you should not take a photo of three people. Wine as a gift in France is not appreciated. Atleast for a year after marriage especially witnessed in Hindus of India, white and black shouldn't be used for decking up oneself. Homosexuality is regarded to be a taboo in many Muslim societies. Consumption of alcohol is also regarded to be a sin.

Hence, these are few of the plethora of taboos that exist in our society. These are age-old practices which are still being practiced in society. However, a lot has been eradicated but a lot more needs to be abolished.

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