Taboo on the dead

The taboo on the dead includes the taboo against touching of the dead and those surrounding them; the taboo against mourners of the dead; and the taboo against anything associated with the dead.

The taboo on mourners

Among the Shuswaps of British Columbia widows and widowers in mourning are secluded and forbidden to touch their own head or body; the cups and cooking vessels which they use may be used by no one else. [...] No hunter would come near such mourners, for their presence is unlucky. If their shadow were to fall on anyone, he would be taken ill at once. They employ thorn-bushes for bed and pillow, in order to keep away the ghost of the deceased; and thorn bushes are also laid all around their beds.[1]

Among the Agutainos, who inhabit Palawan, the Philippines, a widow may not leave her hut for seven or eight days after the death; and even then she may only go out at an hour when is not likely to meet anybody, for whoever looks upon her dies a sudden death. To prevent this fatal catastrophe, the widow knocks with a wooden peg on the trees as she goes along, thus warning people of her dangerous proximity; and the very trees on which she knocks soon die."[2]

The taboo against naming the dead

A taboo against naming the dead is a kind of word taboo 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,[3] Siberia, Southern India and the Sahara.[4]

Examples

Among the Guaycurus 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.[5]

After a Yolngu man named Bitjingu died, the word bithiwul "no; nothing" was avoided.[6] 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 cultural practices, the dead are not referred to by their name directly as a mark of respect. In Pitjantjatjara, for instance, it is common to refer to a recently deceased person as 'kunmanara', which means "what's his name". Often, the person's last name can still be used. 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.[3] For this reason, the names of many notable Aboriginal people were only recorded by Westerners and may have been incorrectly transliterated.

Prevention

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.[7]

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.[8]

Punishment

The taboo had been enforced with extreme severity in some cultures.

Among the Guajiro 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.[9]

Effects on language

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.[6] Other linguists find the effects of the taboo on vocabulary replacement to be insignificant.[10][11][12]

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).

Origins and causes

Sigmund Freud explains 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 him off.[13]

The Tuaregs of the Sahara, for example, dread the return of the dead man'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."[4] In many cases the taboo remains intact until the body of the dead has completely decayed,[14] 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.[15]

Psychologist Wilhelm Wundt associates the taboo to a fear that the dead man's soul has become a demon.[16] Moreover, many cases show a hostility toward the dead and their representation as malevolent figures.[17] 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."[18]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Frazer (1990, 142), quoting Boas (1890 [643f.]).
  2. ^ Frazer (1990, 144), quoting Blumentritt (1891, 182).
  3. ^ a b McGrath, Pam; Phillips, Emma (2008). "Australian findings on Aboriginal cultural practices associated with clothing, hair, possessions and use of name of deceased persons". International Journal of Nursing Practice. 14 (1): 57–66. doi:10.1111/j.1440-172X.2007.00667.x. PMID 18190485.
  4. ^ a b Frazer (1922, 3).
  5. ^ Frazer (1990, 357).
  6. ^ a b Dixon (2002, 27).
  7. ^ Frazer (1990, 354–355).
  8. ^ Frazer (1922, 4).
  9. ^ Frazer (1922, 2).
  10. ^ Alpher & Nash (1991)
  11. ^ Evans (June 2005, 258–261).
  12. ^ McGregor (2004, 34).
  13. ^ Freud (1950, 57).
  14. ^ Freud (1990, 372).
  15. ^ Frazer (1922, 5).
  16. ^ Freud (1950, 58), quoting Wundt (1906, 49).
  17. ^ Freud (1950, 58).
  18. ^ Freud (1950, 59), quoting Westermarck (1906–8, 2, 534f.).

References

  • Alpher, Barry; Nash, David (1991). "Lexical Replacement and Cognate Equilibrium in Australia". Australian Journal of Linguistics. 19 (1): 5–56. doi:10.1080/07268609908599573.
  • Dixon, R. M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Developments. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-47378-1.
  • Evans, Nicholas (June 2005). "Australian Languages Reconsidered: A Review of Dixon (2002)". Oceanic Linguistics. 44 (1): 242–286. doi:10.1353/ol.2005.0020.
  • 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. ISBN 978-0-393-00143-3.
  • McGregor, William B. (2004). The Languages of the Kimberley, Western Australia. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-30808-3.
  • Westermarck, E. (1906–8). The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas (2 vols.). London.
  • Wundt, W. (1906). Mythus und Religion, Teil II (Völkerpsychologie, Band II). Leipzig.
Algor mortis

Algor mortis (Latin: algor—coldness; mortis—of death), the second stage of death, is the change in body temperature post mortem, until the ambient temperature is matched. This is generally a steady decline, although if the ambient temperature is above the body temperature (such as in a hot desert), the change in temperature will be positive, as the (relatively) cooler body acclimates to the warmer environment. External factors can have a significant influence.

The term was first used by Dowler in 1849. The first published measurements of the intervals of temperature after death were done by Dr John Davey in 1839.

Dead on arrival

Dead on arrival (DOA), also dead in the field and brought in dead (BID), indicates that a patient was found to be already clinically dead upon the arrival of professional medical assistance, often in the form of first responders such as emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or police.

In some jurisdictions, first responders must consult verbally with a physician before officially pronouncing a patient deceased, but once cardiopulmonary resuscitation is initiated, it must be continued until a physician can pronounce the patient dead.

Death hoax

A death hoax is a deliberate or confused report of someone's death that turns out to be incorrect and murder rumors. In some cases it might be because the person has intentionally faked death.

Death messenger

Death messengers, in former times, were those who were dispatched to spread the news that an inhabitant of their city or village had died. They were to wear unadorned black and go door to door with the message, "You are asked to attend the funeral of the departed __________ at (time, date, and place)." This was all they were allowed to say, and were to move on to the next house immediately after uttering the announcement. This tradition persisted in some areas to as late as the mid-19th century.

Death rattle

Terminal respiratory secretions (or simply terminal secretions), known colloquially as a death rattle, are sounds often produced by someone who is near death as a result of fluids such as saliva and bronchial secretions accumulating in the throat and upper chest. Those who are dying may lose their ability to swallow and may have increased production of bronchial secretions, resulting in such an accumulation. Usually, two or three days earlier, the symptoms of approaching death can be observed as saliva accumulates in the throat, making it very difficult to take even a spoonful of water. Related symptoms can include shortness of breath and rapid chest movement. While death rattle is a strong indication that someone is near death, it can also be produced by other problems that cause interference with the swallowing reflex, such as brain injuries.It is sometimes misinterpreted as the sound of the person choking to death, or alternatively, that they are gargling.

Dignified death

Dignified death is a somewhat elusive concept often related to suicide. One factor that has been cited as a core component of dignified death is maintaining a sense of control. Another view is that a truly dignified death is an extension of a dignified life. There is some concern that assisted suicide does not guarantee a dignified death, since some patients may experience complications such as nausea and vomiting. There is some concern that age discrimination denies the elderly a dignified death.

Fan death

Fan death is a well-known superstition in Korean culture, where it is thought that running an electric fan in a closed room with unopened or no windows will prove fatal. Despite no concrete evidence to support the concept, belief in fan death persists to this day in Korea, and also to a lesser extent in Japan.

Funeral director

A funeral director, also known as an undertaker (British English) or mortician (American English), is a professional involved in the business of funeral rites. These tasks often entail the embalming and burial or cremation of the dead, as well as the arrangements for the funeral ceremony (although not the directing and conducting of the funeral itself unless clergy are not present). Funeral directors may at times be asked to perform tasks such as dressing (in garments usually suitable for daily wear), casketing (placing the human body in the coffin), and cossetting (applying any sort of cosmetic or substance to the best viewable areas of the corpse for the purpose of enhancing its appearance). A funeral director may work at a funeral home or be an independent employee.

Lazarus sign

The Lazarus sign or Lazarus reflex is a reflex movement in brain-dead or brainstem failure patients, which causes them to briefly raise their arms and drop them crossed on their chests (in a position similar to some Egyptian mummies). The phenomenon is named after the Biblical figure Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus Christ raised from the dead in the Gospel of John.

Megadeath

Megadeath (or megacorpse) is one million human deaths, usually caused by a nuclear explosion. The term was used by scientists and thinkers who strategized likely outcomes of all-out nuclear warfare.

Necronym

A necronym (from the Greek words νεκρός, nekros, "dead" and ὄνομα ónoma, "name") is a reference to, or name of, a person who has died. Many cultures have taboos and traditions associated with referring to such a person. These vary from the extreme of never again speaking the person's real name, often using some circumlocution instead, to the opposite extreme of commemorating it incessantly by naming other things or people after the deceased.

For instance, in some cultures it is common for a newborn child to receive the name (a necronym) of a relative who has recently died, while in others to reuse such a name would be considered extremely inappropriate or even forbidden. While this varies from culture to culture, the use of necronyms is quite common.

Necrophobia

Necrophobia is a specific phobia which is the irrational fear of dead things (e.g., corpses) as well as things associated with death (e.g., coffins, tombstones, funerals, cemeteries). With all types of emotions, obsession with death becomes evident in both fascination and objectification. In a cultural sense, necrophobia may also be used to mean a fear of the dead by a cultural group, e.g., a belief that the spirits of the dead will return to haunt the living.Symptoms include: shortness of breath, rapid breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, dry mouth and shaking, feeling sick and uneasy, psychological instability, and an altogether feeling of dread and trepidation. The sufferer may feel this phobia all the time. The sufferer may also experience this sensation when something triggers the fear, like a close encounter with a dead animal or the funeral of a loved one or friend. The fear may have developed when a person witnessed a death, or was forced to attend a funeral as a child. Some people experience this after viewing frightening media.The fear can manifest itself as a serious condition. Treatment options include medication and therapy.The word necrophobia is derived from the Greek nekros (νεκρός) for "corpse" and the Greek phobos (φόβος) for "fear".

Obituary

An obituary (obit for short) is a news article that reports the recent death of a person, typically along with an account of the person's life and information about the upcoming funeral. In large cities and larger newspapers, obituaries are written only for people considered significant. In local newspapers, an obituary may be published for any local resident upon death. A necrology is a register or list of records of the deaths of people related to a particular organization, group or field, which may only contain the sparsest details, or small obituaries. Historical necrologies can be important sources of information.

Two types of paid advertisements are related to obituaries. One, known as a death notice, omits most biographical details and may be a legally required public notice under some circumstances. The other type, a paid memorial advertisement, is usually written by family members or friends, perhaps with assistance from a funeral home. Both types of paid advertisements are usually run as classified advertisements.

Outline of death

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to death:

Death – termination of all biological functions that sustain a living organism.

Pallor mortis

Pallor mortis (Latin: pallor "paleness", mortis "of death"), the first stage of death, is an after-death paleness that occurs in those with light/white skin.

Post-mortem interval

Post-mortem interval (PMI) is the time that has elapsed since a person has died. If the time in question is not known, a number of medical/scientific techniques are used to determine it. This also can refer to the stage of decomposition of the body.

Promession

Promession is an idea of how to dispose human remains by way of freeze drying. The concept of promession was developed by Swedish biologist Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, who derived the name from the Italian word for "promise" (promessa). She founded Promessa Organic AB in 1997 to commercially pursue her idea. The company was liquidated 2015 without being able to produce a functioning facility. The idea of promession is questioned and not a functional method according to critics.

Rigor mortis

Rigor mortis (Latin: rigor "stiffness", mortis "of death"), or postmortem rigidity, is the third stage of death. It is one of the recognizable signs of death, characterized by stiffening of the limbs of the corpse caused by chemical changes in the muscles postmortem. In humans, rigor mortis can occur as soon as four hours after death.

Skeletonization

Skeletonization refers to the final stage of decomposition, during which the last vestiges of the soft tissues of a corpse or carcass have decayed or dried to the point that the skeleton is exposed. By the end of the skeletonization process, all soft tissue will have been eliminated, leaving only disarticulated bones. In a temperate climate, it usually requires three weeks to several years for a body to completely decompose into a skeleton, depending on factors such as temperature, humidity, presence of insects, and submergence in a substrate such as water. In tropical climates, skeletonization can occur in weeks, while in tundra areas, skeletonization may take years or may never occur, if subzero temperatures persist. Natural embalming processes in peat bogs or salt deserts can delay the process indefinitely, sometimes resulting in natural mummification.The rate of skeletonization and the present condition of a corpse or carcass can be used to determine the time of death.After skeletonization, if scavenging animals do not destroy or remove the bones, acids in many fertile soils take about 20 years to completely dissolve the skeleton of mid- to large-size mammals, such as humans, leaving no trace of the organism. In neutral-pH soil or sand, the skeleton can persist for hundreds of years before it finally disintegrates. Alternately, especially in very fine, dry, salty, anoxic, or mildly alkaline soils, bones may undergo fossilization, converting into minerals that may persist indefinitely.

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