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

Quentin Gausset
Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
Vol. 72, No. 4 (2002), pp. 628-654
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3556704
Page Count: 27
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The Cognitive Rationality of Taboos on Production and Reproduction in Sub-Saharan Africa
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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./Dans toute l'Afrique sub-saharienne, les femmes menstruées, enceintes 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 mé taphoriquement 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.

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