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The Science Behind Taboos

The Science Behind Taboos

Culture is the way of life of a people which includes their beliefs, experiences, values and attitudes. Culture is developed, shaped and practised over the years and where it needs to change to better serve the environment or the people for reasons of religion, modernization or societal development, it usually does.

Ghana has over ten ethnic groups that all have distinct cultures. Contained within these cultures are various micro customs and traditions that seek to regulate and guide the lives of the people in these groups. Likewise, there are other cultural groups all over the world with their own unique sets of customs and traditions.

Within these various cultures, there are taboos that have been passed down from ancestors, and group members are required to obey them. You will find that while some of them are still useful today, many of these taboos are at variance with modern day development. One would think that with modernization and education on scientific discoveries, all counter-productive taboos would have been wiped out already, but that is simply not the case. It is also interesting to note that some of these taboos, though created by people who couldn’t possibly have had any scientific knowledge when they passed them, are in line with scientific facts and are therefore necessary to maintain.

Just Dont

Here are 4 taboos from around the world that have either been supported or debunked by science.

  1. In certain Ghanaian societies, it is a taboo for a menstruating woman to cook for her husband because menstruation blood is considered impure and likely to contaminate the food.

However, science explains that menstruation is just blood and tissue a woman ended up not using to feed a baby. That’s it. So far as they stick to hygienic habits when it’s that time of the month, women are as clean as they are any other day! Plus she can’t contaminate the food with her blood unless she pours it in, in which case you need to visit your nearest psych ward.

  1. In many parts of the world, it is a taboo for pregnant women to drink alcohol.

You might enjoy a glass of wine now and again, and when you’re pregnant you’re bound to wonder how much is safe to drink during the period of your pregnancy. The answer is none. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urge women not to drink at all during pregnancy, and this should be no cause for alarm since you don’t need alcohol to survive.

So why shouldn’t you drink when you’re knocked up? Because drinking during pregnancy increases your risk of miscarriages and premature births. As little as one drink a day can raise the odds for having a baby with a low birth weight and raise your child’s risk of having problems with learning, speech, attention span, language, and hyperactivity.

  1. In some societies in Ghana, it is a taboo to whistle in the night because it apparently invites evil spirits such as dwarfs, witches and wizards into your home. This taboo also exists in Japan and other countries, because it attracts “bad luck, bad things or evil spirits.”

This of course, is false. You don’t need a scientific explanation to debunk this, as common sense should suffice. 

Whistling is piercing, especially at night when everything is still, and it’s rude to make noise to wake people up. But then again, nighttime these days are much less still than they were in the past and if you don’t make noise with your whistling, some idiot will (with his music turned all the way up, he’ll drive through the neighborhood and wake up all the dogs, who in turn will decide it’s a great time to howl in unison. Which will then wake the whole world up).


  1. Incest is considered a taboo (and a crime) almost everywhere in the world.

Of the 7.22 billion people in the world, if you can’t find anyone to sleep with beside your own sibling, then you my friend need help. Science supports this taboo, in that incest has a greater risk of producing babies with various handicaps ailments and deformities due to a closer sharing of genetics. Each of us carry around in our bodies various unique genetic mutations that could have dire consensus. However, we have two copies of each gene so where the copy from your mother is defective, the copy from your father tends to compensate and vice versa.  Now imagine the case where both copies of the genes are defective because your parents were siblings.

You might be wondering, “What if the siblings have no plans of bearing children?” or “what if they use protection, is it still a taboo?” I think at this point it becomes a question of morals, and I’ll leave you to decide for yourself whether it is acceptable or not.


  1. “Don’t sing in the shower otherwise your mother will die,” is another taboo that many Ghanaians are familiar with. Just like taboo No. 3 up there, this one doesn’t need scientific proof to debunk it. I sing in the shower all the time (complete with dance routines and everything) and my mother is still very much alive. Chances are you’ll eat a litte soap or lather, but you’ll be fine. Unless you choke on the water, which is highly unlikely.

Our ancestors created taboos for a reason, and while it is true that some are outmoded and downright outrageous, there are others that are still useful and have scientific backing. Do you know any interesting taboos worth sharing?

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