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Taboo against naming the dead

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The taboo against naming the dead is a kind of taboo on the dead whereby the name of a recently deceased person, and any other words similar to it in sound, may not be uttered. It is observed by peoples from all over the world, including Australia,[1] Siberia, Southern India and the Sahara.[2]

ExamplesEdit

  • Among the Mbayá of Paraguay, when a death had taken place, the chief used to change the name of every member of the tribe; and from that moment everybody remembered his new name just as if he had borne it all his life.[3]
  • After a Yolngu man named Bitjingu died, the word bithiwul "no; nothing" was avoided.[4] In its place, a synonym or a loanword from another language would be used for a certain period, after which the original word could be used again; but in some cases the replacement word would continue to be used.
  • In some Australian Aboriginal culture the dead are not referred to by their name directly as a mark of respect. The avoidance period may last anywhere from 12 months to several years, depending on how important or famous the person was. The person can still be referred to in a roundabout way, such as "that old lady" or by generic skin type but not by first name. Other reasons may include not making mockery of that person and keeping respect with regard to them.[1]

Origin and causesEdit

Sigmund Freud suggested that the fundamental reason for the existence of such taboos is the fear of the presence or of the return of the dead person's ghost. It is exactly this fear that leads to a great number of ceremonies aimed at keeping the ghost at a distance or driving it off.[5]

The Tuareg of Sahara, for example, dread the return of the dead person's spirit so much that

"[they] do all they can to avoid it by shifting their camp after a death, ceasing for ever to pronounce the name of the departed, and eschewing everything that might be regarded as an evocation or recall of his soul. Hence they do not, like the Arabs, designate individuals by adding to their personal names the names of their fathers. [...] they give to every man a name which will live and die with him."[2]
In many cases the taboo remains intact until the body of the dead has completely decayed,[6] but until then the community must disguise itself so that the ghost shall not recognize them. For example, the Nicobar Islanders try to disguise themselves by shaving their heads.[7]

Psychologist Wilhelm Wundt associates the taboo to a fear that the dead person's soul has become a demon.[8] As such, many cases point to hostility toward the dead and their representation as malevolent figures.[9] Edward Westermarck notes that "Death is commonly regarded as the gravest of all misfortunes; hence the dead are believed to be exceedingly dissatisfied with their fate [...] such a death naturally tends to make the soul revengeful and ill-tempered. It is envious of the living and is longing for the company of its old friend."[10]

PreventionEdit

  • The Maasai of East Africa resort to the device of changing the dead person's name immediately after their death; the person may then be mentioned freely under the new name while all the restrictions remain attached to the old one. They assume that the dead person will not know their new name, and so will not answer to it when hearing it pronounced.[11]
  • Among the Kaurna and Ramindjeri tribes of South Australia, the repugnance to mentioning the names of those who have died lately is carried so far that persons who bear the same name as the deceased abandon it, and either adopt temporary names or are known by any others that happen to belong to them.[12]

PunishmentEdit

The taboo is enforced with extreme severity:

  • Among the Goajiro of Colombia to mention the dead before their kin is a dreadful offence, which is often punished with death; for if it happens on the rancho of the deceased, in presence of a nephew or uncle, they will assuredly kill the offender on the spot if they can. But if they escape, the penalty resolves itself into a heavy fine, usually of two or more oxen.[13]

Effects on languageEdit

R. M. W. Dixon has suggested, in reference to Australian Aboriginal languages, that the substitution of loanwords for tabooed words results in significant vocabulary replacement, hindering the application of the comparative method.[4] Other linguists find the effects of the taboo on vocabulary replacement to be insignificant.[14][15][16]

Goddard (1979) also suggests upon finding evidence of name-taboos of the deceased in Tonkawa similar to Australian languages, the languages of the North American Southeast may have resisted classification into language families so far due in part to vocabulary replacement (in addition to their already sparse documentation).

See alsoEdit

NotesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Australian findings on Aboriginal cultural practices associated with clothing, hair, possessions and use of name of deceased persons", Pam McGrath and Emma Phillips, Research paper, International Journal of Nursing Practice Vol 14, Issue #1 pp. 57–66
  2. 2.0 2.1 Frazer (1922, 3).
  3. Frazer (1990, 357).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Dixon (2002, 27).
  5. Freud (1950, 57).
  6. Freud (1990, 372).
  7. Frazer (1922, 5).
  8. Freud (1950, 58), quoting Wundt (1906, 49).
  9. Freud (1950, 58).
  10. Freud (1950, 59), quoting Westermarck (1906–1908, 2, 534f.).
  11. Frazer (1990, 354–355).
  12. Frazer (1922, 4).
  13. Frazer (1922, 2).
  14. Alpher & Nash (1991)
  15. Evans (June 2005, 258–261).
  16. McGregor (2004, 34).

ReferencesEdit

  • Alpher, Barry; Nash, David (1991). Lexical Replacement and Cognate Equilibrium in Australia. Australian Journal of Linguistics 19 (1): 5–56.
  • Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Developments, Cambridge University Press.
  • Evans, Nicholas (June 2005). Australian Languages Reconsidered: A Review of Dixon (2002). Oceanic Linguistics 44 (1): 242–286.
  • Frazer, James George (1922). "Names of the Dead Tabooed". The Golden Bough, abridged ed. New York: The Macmillan Co. [Retrieved on 2006-12-04.]
  • Frazer, James George (1990). Taboo and the Perils of the Soul (The Golden Bough, 3rd ed., Part II). New York: St. Martin's Press. [1st ed., 1913.]
  • Freud, Sigmund (1950). Totem and Taboo:Some Points of Agreement between the Mental Lives of Savages and Neurotics, trans. Strachey, New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Goddard, Ives. (1979). South Texas and the lower Rio Grande. In L. Campbell & M. Mithun (Eds.), The languages of native America: Historical and comparative assessment (pp. 355–389). Austin: University of Texas Press.
  • McGregor, William B. (2004). The Languages of the Kimberley, Western Australia, Routledge.
  • Westermarck, E. (1906–1908). The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (2 vols.). London.
  • Wundt, W. (1906). Mythus und Religion, Teil II (Völkerpsychologie, Band II). Leipzig.

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