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The Cognitive Rationality of Taboos on Production and Reproduction in Sub-Saharan Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2011

Abstract

All over sub-saharan Africa, menstruating women, pregnant women and sexual relations are seen as incompatible with productive activities (hunting, blacksmithing, cattle herding, agriculture, pottery, beer brewing, etc.). The article argues that there is a certain rationality or logic behind the prohibitions which is independent of the social contingencies found in the different societies, and which is linked with the fact that all these activities are metaphorically compared to human reproduction. The metaphors help us to understand mysterious and delicate biochemical processes, characterised by recurrent misfortune, but they also introduce a cognitive threat by creating similarity between things which are very different. The taboos then try to prevent the conjunction of the things metaphorically compared, in order to forestall the possibility of misfortune related to them.

Résumé

Dans toute l'Afrique sub-saharienne, les femmes menstruées, nceintes ou les relations sexuelles sont vues comme incompatibles avec les activités productrices (chasse, travail du fer, élevage, agriculture, potterie, brasserie, etc.) L'article défend l'idée qu'il existe une certaine rationalité derrière tous ces interdits, qui est indépendante des contingences sociales, et qui est dûe au fait que toutes ces activités sont métaphoriquement comparées à la reproduction humaine. Les métaphores aident à comprendre des processus bio-chimiques délicats et mystérieux, caractérisés par des malheurs récurrents, mais elles introduisent en même temps une menace cognitive en créant un lien de similarité entre des choses fort différentes. Les interdits essayent alors d'éviter la conjonction de ces choses métaphoriquement similaires, afin d'éviter tout malheur potentiel les concernant.

Type
Research Article
Information
Africa , Volume 72 , Issue 4 , November 2002 , pp. 628 - 654
Copyright
Copyright © International African Institute 2002

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