The term medical health taboos refers to taboos aimed at protecting and promoting human health.
Preventing illnesses and diseases in traditional societies was critical for human survival since these
societies could not boast of some of the breakthroughs in modern medicine such as the discovery
and use of penicillin and antibiotics as well as vaccinations and immunizations against various killerdiseases.
The following taboos exemplify both the diversity and complexity of the taboos used in
It is a taboo to have sex in the bush: While this is said to offend the near-by gods and the earth
goddess (Asaase Yaa) who may strike the offenders with venereal and other diseases, several
scientific explanations can be given for this taboo. For instance, it helps to ensure that sex does not
take place in an unsafe environment such as the bush where there are dangerous insects, scorpions
and snakes, not to mention microorganisms. There’s also the possibility of a heart attack or
bleeding on the part of any of the parties, which could prove fatal, especially, if the farm or bush is
far from home. It is also to deter the incidents of rape, which often occurs in the bus, and related
It is a taboo to sing while taking your bath: It is feared that one will mysteriously lose the mother to
death just by refusing to stop such a habit. The scientific explanation for this is not hard to discern.
Soaps used in the olden days were highly acidic and therefore poisonous if swallowed in sufficiently
large quantities. The essence of the taboo then is to prevent people from the harmful effect if unsafe
traditional soap. Given the special bonding between mothers and their children in traditional
societies where children are breast-fed for one year or more, the possibility of causing death of one’s
own mother is for most Africans, the worst case scenario in life.
It is a taboo for a widow/widower to be at the cemetery for their spouses’ burial: The personal
explanation is that this will disturb the peaceful separation and departure of the deceased to the
world of souls. Consequently, it is believed that the ghost of the dead spouse would visit the
offending spouse at night and might take him/her away spiritually.
Mysterious as this taboo might appear it is associated with a very plausible scientific explanation. In
psychological terms, the wise elders explain that it is aimed at protecting the mental health or
emotion well-being of the bereaved spouse. The moment of burial marks a definite point of
separation and the bereaved spouse could be overpowered by extreme emotions. In extreme cases
this could result in the collapse or death of the bereaved. For similar reasons children are also
forbidden from seeing dead bodies, especially their own relatives and friends.
It is also a taboo to talk while eating: In terms of personal explanation, it is feared that one’s mother
would die if one breaks this taboo. The scientific counterpart to this personal explanation is simply
that the prohibition is necessary to prevent people from getting choked. Food chocking is a common
phenomenon in Africa since many ethnic foods made from mashed corn, cassava, yam, and plantain
have to be swallowed with soup or sauce without chewing. These include balls of fufu, akple and
toozaafe especially with very oily palm-kernel and groundnut paste soups etc.