Bellemare Pierre (b. 1929-10-21 / d. 2018-05-26)
He was a French writer, novelist, radio personality, television presenter, TV producer, director, and actor.Follow us on Twitter
The word "taboo" comes from Polynesia, and appeared in Europe in the 18th Century. It means simultaneously holy and prohibited. Taboo is also the title of one of the most beautilful Friedrich Murnau's films; Filmed in Polynesia, in 1931, precisely in Bora-Bora. A love story between a pearl's hunter and a beautiful girl, who had been choosen for becoming a priestess and had to stay a virgin. She is declared "Taboo". The passion will win eventually and the interdict will be breached. In the 20th Century, "Taboo" has a quantity of meanings. To know them, this broadcasting makes an inventory of them. It is entitled "Taboo from the outside and taboo from the inside", from Christophe Deleu and François Teste.
- Taboo is a bit stronger than interdict. A taboo prevents us to act, but never forces us to act. This is what makes us go from the profane to the holy, because we touch something essential. These are a kind of interdicts I would call "cosmic", that are not related with morality, and that are a warrant, or help to warrant, life or continuation of life. Thus, a world with no taboo is a world with no life.
- The taboo is a lay-out of the human being's incapacity to be able to ensure his happiness
- One stands here in what is called the seas of the South, in French Polynesia, and so a Polynesian pirogue is coming on, and we have the same kind of envision that Cook and Bougainville had depicted, about the arriving of those polynesian people, who climb on the boat by every rope. The arrival of an important person, probably the chief. And then, the music gives us the key: There is an unpleasant person, who is on board of the boat, and who is Polynesian. And one can see behind him this menacing mountain, known as Bora-Bora.
- Patrick Banon, you are a specialist in sciences for studying religions and systems of thoughts and you wrote this work "Taboos and interdicts" (Ed. Acte Sud Junior). What is the etymology of the word taboo ?
- Taboo stems from Polynesian communities. "Ta" means "mark", and "Poo", (because it is more tapoo than taboo), is an adverb specifying an apex in the religious ritual. Nevertheless, the term was exported to indicate any form of interdict, which does not come form a human decision. This is to say that a taboo is a supernatural and silent emanation of a prohibition, which is neither arguable, nor explanable, nor the subject of any debate, by opposition with a simple interdict, which comes from a human decision, which is arguable. On can make appealAn interdict only incriminates the individual who breached it. In the case of a taboo, the act of the breacher is a concern for the entire community.
- Serge Lesourd, you are psychoanalyst, Professor of Psychology at the University Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg. Where does the concept of taboo come from ?
- It comes from the dawns of humanity, in the way of humans could endure the terrible forces they had around them, of their weakness, etc... and then, they built the taboo as a way of organizing their fears and anguishes, by directing them on a specific point, which could be an animal, for example. It allows the subject to know that the fear or the interdict will be immobilized there, instead of invading his psyche entirely, or the whole of his relations with the others.
- Patrick Baonon, if I ask you taboo and totem ?
- Taboo and totem are inseparable. A totem is a collective symbol: an animal, a tree, or a plant, more often a tree and an animal, to which the community -the group- refers. If the totem is the tree, we expect to acquire its power of regeneration, its ability to come back every season, to be able to be reborn from the death the same way as the tree loses its leaves every season and gets new the next one
- Any example of an animal totem ?
- The wild boar is an example. This will probably lead us to talk about the problems of forbidden food. This is very interesting because the totem to which a group refers, has induced the organization of taboos. This organization of taboos echoes until now in our contemporary era
If we were inclined to impute to savage and semi-savage peoples a quality of no regret and unlimited cruelty against their ennemies, we would learn with great curiosity that killing a man is done under the respect of specific rules that are classified in the taboo costums.
Some peoples have found the way to convert their dead ennemies into allied, guards and protectors. It consist in treating chopped off heads with tenderness, as brag some savage tribes of Borneo.. When the Dayak of the Sarawak coast brought back a head from their expedition, it is treated with the most exquisite kindness for months, andt they talk to it with the sweetest possible words they can use in their language. They put in its mouth the best of their meals, sweets and cigars. One prey it recurrently to hate its former friends, and give its fondness to its new hosts, since it is now one of them.
- Serge Lesourd, Freud was the first to introduce the concept of taboo. What meaning does he give to this word taboo ?
- Freud starts from the works of his contemporary antropologists, because there was a big current of antropologists in this period, who were studying archaic cultures, what we call primitive cultures. And Freud introduced the taboo in his work, as being a matter of principle of the law.This is the step forward that Freud made: Instead of using the force for reigning, or enforcing the law and interdicts under constraint, human beings thought at some time to build a taboo, something of such a power that punishment would be for sure, if one violated it, and the taboo, that Freud links with the murder of the horde's father, this is what actually helps the human being to integrate the law. The respect of law is not obtained by force any longer, but by the scare that is actually formed by the taboo. Therefore, the taboo is a mental thing, which finally prohibits an essential desire, admitting at the same time that this desire is normal, necessary to the individual, but it shall not to be realized. more or less, this would be the psychoanalitic definition of the term.
- So this is a completely new atmosphere. We are in a lagoon. So the landscape is very different from Bora-Bora, there is no mountain, this is the flat lagoon, and in the middle of this lagoon, a dangerous spot, where, from time time, divers disappear. And this spot will be declared "Taboo".
- David Lebreton, you are an antropologist. In term of antropology and ethnology, what does the concpet of taboo cover today ?
- To me, this concept is not operational any more. It is now part of the common language. Instead of talking of taboo, I would rather use the term of interdicts, for example -putting a hyphen between inter and dict, by the way- because an interdict is the means which allows a community to work. It makes possible the reciprocity of the social link, through the definition of limits, so that you know what you can expect from the others, and what the others can expect from you. Interdicts are what allow a community to work well, transmitt to the youngest, and go towards the future.
- The behaviour of primitive peoples towards their chiefs, kings or priests, is governed by two principles that seem to be additive rather than contradict each other. One must be protected from them, and one has to protect them. Countless taboo prescriptions permit to do both. One of the most glaring example of such a sequence and paralysis forced to a monarch by a taboo ceremonial seems to have been attained in the life that the Japaneese Mikado experienced in the past. Thereafter is what recounts a 2 centuries old story: The Mikado believes that it is unacceptable for his dignity an Holiness that his feet touch the ground. Therefore, men have to carry him on their shoulders, whenever he wants to go somewhere. But it is even more inconvenient that he exposes his sacred person to the air, and it is judged that the sun does not deserve to spread its light on his head. Such a degree of Holiness is given to every part of his body. Neither his hair and beard can be cut, nor his nails. Nevertheless, they wash him by night, when he sleeps, for him not to be too much neglected. They say that whatever is removed from his body in those cases shall be considered as stolen. Such a robbery, made in these circumstances, does not cause any damage to his dignity and holiness.
- Taboo. Bible. Adam and Eve. Well this is very interesting because the Bible is not a compilation of taboos. This is more a compilation of interdicts. Because taboos stem from communities with no writings. So, finding taboos in the Biblic texts for example, as I could say it in English, this is a "stretch" (wouarf wouarf). But one can find them. One can find them at two very interesting levels: This is of course the knowledge tree of the Good and the Evil, and the prohibition to eat its fruits, which is not justified. And as for every taboo, the offence is punished by death, not only Adam's and Eve's, but by the entire humanity's death, since the entire humanity is now mortal. The other example of the expression of a taboo in the biblic world, these are simply the 10 Commandments. Because the 10 Commandments are not justified. In the 10 Commandments, it is said: "You shall not kill". Why? It is not said whom, neither when, nor why. And what is going to happen, and one even does not know who says this. And one does not know to whom it is addressed. So we are in this system of interdicts that is not justified, but that is inescapable, because in any case when one violates a taboo, the punishment will be death.
- Now the image of the film has completely changed. We are in a Moonlight, in a lunar ambience. Mataï, the hero of the movie has no other choice than -to try to escape the taboo and to save his beloved- finding money. And to do so, he had to violate an other taboo, that is that he has to go in the lagoon, which was just declared "taboo", in this dangerous place, where there is a monster or something, and where then it is forbidden to go.
- Yves de Peretti, you are a fimmaker (17'03"). You directed "taboo, the last journey", a documentary about the last Murnau's film "Taboo" -you've just commented several pieces here for us- While in antropology Cook is the reference who carries the term of taboo from Polynesia to the West, while in literature one can find morsels of this concept of taboo in "the children of Captain Grant" by Jules Verne, in the field of the cinema, this is Murnau, who handles this subject in a direct way, with this movie, entitled "taboo" that he filmed in Bora-Bora. Which taboo is recounted in this film ?
- Well, the story of this film is about a legend. It is almost Tristan and Yseult. This is a hindered love story between Mataï and Reri who live on this island of Bora-bora. And one day comes a sailing vessel with a great priest, coming from nowhere, who decides that Reri was ordained a vestal, and therefore, that she must be guarding the Gods, and stay a virgin, since no contact o any sort is permitted to her. Of course, this triggers Mataï's despair. Then, Mataï is in the situation of violating this taboo. He takes Reri away from Bora-Bora, in another island, and this is the second chapter of the film -the first chapter titles "The Paradise", the second "The lost Paradise"- And there is Mataï obliged to dive to find pearls. There is no other possibility, since he stepped from paradise island to another one where humanity and society are there, so he has to be a worker like others. But, obviously, the big priest is stalking them, and they won't be able to escape their fate, because there was violation of the taboo. Therefore, Mataï has to pay.
- Patrick Banon, what about "taboo" and "virginity" ?
- At the centre of every totem and every taboo, there is the blood. The blood, which holds life and death. And the human being is frightened at the idea of making it flow. And then the virginity of young girls finally protects the man (19'50"). It does not protect the woman herself. And then the man's temptation is to export this seizure of virginity outside of the tribe. So the virginity is not really -at the beginning of taboos- some sort of woman's submission to the masculine will, it will become it of course, but at the beginning, it is simply for the man the will not to make flow this blood, which frightens him. So there are other problems with the blood. This is the virginal blood, but this is the menstrual flow as well. And this is also the blood of the delivrance. And for a man, this is also the blood of that dying animal he hunted. Then, this vital power of the blood is reunited in the totem. So the group has no right for making flow the blood of his own totem. And the women have to be made pregnant by men, who are coming from the outside of the group. And then this taboo of blood will create a kind of exogamy. So that is something. It is going to structure our community. By these days, virginity is a residue of this rationale. But, Freud believes that taking a woman's virginity is, for a man, as frightening as being castrated.
(Then, an excerpt of a movie)
- Thierry Goguel d'Allondans, you are an antropologist and specialized educator. You wrote "initiatic sexuality, the sexual revolution did not happen". Did we always have taboos in the matter of sexuality?
- Yes we have had taboos from the dawn of humanity. I think that one of the major taboos is the taboo of the virginity. So far, one can see, that it is a "win" for young guys to lose their virginity, and it is really a loss for young girls. Next, there are other taboos that are very present (23'02"). They are bound to the very first expressions of the sexuality, in the body's emissions, for example milk, semen or blood, that are often the vehicles of interdicts, but also the first experience, or masturbation, practices themselves.
- Masturbation is not really a problem. Of course, in the sacred texts, one reads "giving sin, damning sin", but finally, until the 17th century, everybody -Priests, parents- agrees on the facts that children have to do what they have to, to discover their body. But suddenly, with the rising of medical science, there is something coming up, that feeds ancestral fears, as if the masturbation had become the origin of all pains. Durnig the 17th and 18th centuries, one have a collection of extraordinary books that propagate, and have an extraordinary success, and that warn against all risks of masturbation such as deafness, of course, but also blindness and death or decline, with a large list of contention's objects for the parents' use in order to avoid that their little boys or little girls did such practices. And for example, one can see, in the beginning of the 18th century, in France, something very very surprising: It is very rare and happens only in the upper class, parents make their little girl's genitals cut, to avoid them to masturbate. There is an extraordinary paradox: We are in a society where sexuality comes out a lot, in advertisement, medias or new forms of communication, but paradoxally it is less said or talked, implying a loss of meaning, that highly disturbs youngsters. I always keep in mind this remark of a 15-year old boy, who told me: "about meat and AIDS, one told us everything!", insinuating that about essential things, i.e. love, why we meet, why we love each other, there is a lack of explanation.
- It seems also that sexual initiation in our societies, it is not done in secret, but at least the individual is left alone. It is not done as a ritual. Concretely, here we have a deep rupture between societies of tradition and modern societies. Foucauld in his time was saying that there was two ways of considering the sexuality: Erotic art and scientist discourse. One mostly finds the erotic art in traditional societies. And scientist discourse grows better in societies of modernity.
- Could you explain, for example, how the sexual initiation is made by Murias in India
- That is true, this is actually a very stunning society. Murias are located in the state of "Bastards" in India, and were studied in the beginning of the 20th century by an ethnologist, who was a Pastor as well (an anglican archbishop) Elvin Verrier. And he went there for studying this society, as well as for evangelize it. In fact, he falls in love with this society, and after 10 years he unfrocks and abandons his faith. He discovers that the Murias actually have an erotic art in order to initiate their children to sexuality. About at the age of 5 or 6, the little boys and the little girls leave the village, they leave their family home, and set up in a house for youngsters, where they will live until their adulthood (The Gotul). This is a magical place. On one of the most beautiful Gotul of the Bastard state, the youngsters wrote: "We do respect more the laws of the Gotul than those of the government, because the laws of the Gotul were made by us". One notices that during their life in the Gotul (from 7 or 8-year old, through 18 ot 20), they have love affairs, love experiences, with a lot of poetry and softness. The little boys and girls explain for example how they accustom the opening of the vagina. This is really stunning how this children explain through poetical metaphors, all this initiation to progressively come to the genitality.
- Taboo and nudity ?
- Taboo and nudity. There we are somehow in an upside down taboo. I mean that, here, the garment is indecency, because nudity does not create any sexual attitude. When a woman is in the position of having a sexual intercourse with a man, she signals it. And generally she was signaling it, either by embellish her genitals, or by wearing necklaces, bracelets, belts made out of flowers or shells, that show off fertility. Then a question that we can ask today: this is the muslim veil. Very interesting, because finally this veil hides the body but it expresses feminity: You know that it is a woman, because you can see a veil. And you know also that this is a fecund woman. Therefore, this veil finally signals the feminity instead of signaling the absence of sexuality.
- David Lebreton, you are an Antropologist, what are the historical taboos or interdicts that are bound to the body ?
- This is complicated, because there are plenty of them, and every time one can find counter-examples. To me, the founding one is the taboo of incest, which permits the widening of the social relationships, through the necessity of finding (32'04") life and sexual partners outside the family. This is finally a way to multiply the links to others. Other forms of taboo are for example canibalism, anthropophagy. Simultneously, one can fond many counter-examples. There are for example anthropophagies of starvation, where people are forced to eat human flesh either by eating dead people or even swometimes by killing life partners, or children namely who can no longer offer resistance. There are uncountable examples of anthropophagies for starvation, in our own societies, during military sieges. There were such cases in Italy or in USSR or in other places. There had been a case in Argentina at the time of that plane crash that had left a fistful of survivors, who had been forced to eat their dead friends, in order to survive. Simultaneously, it is fascinating to see how these people have found excuses to breach the taboo. In the case of this plane crash in Argentina, there was a Doctor of course, who probably permitted the rightfulness of the anthropology, at least to eat human flesh. This doctor has confirmed that a human body was only "meat", calories, etc..., He made thinkable the fact, at a first level, to eat friends, by making dehumanized the human body. And Somebody else brought up the symbolic figure of Jesus Christ, that is "take and eat, this is my blood and my flesh", etc... and finally these surviving people -they were all raised in the catholic religion- have seen in their story some sort of renewal of a christian scene, where the body of their friends became an hostie, that one could eat. With also the fundamental legitimacy that life and surviving was the key for being allowed to eat his related.
- One can understand nothing of Polynasia, until one has spend several days in an atoll of the Tuamutu. This is there, at takapoto, that Murnau had located the second part of "Taboo"
- Since pastors have arrived here, it took them 50 years to accept the christian God. because they were just baptized on a day, the day after they were taking back to their previous God. They had become Christians in one Century, and they saw that eating human flesh was bad. My father would say that the parents did not like to talk about the times when one was eating human flesh. They are ashamed of this. Killing your ennemy for eating his liver or his heart, this is acquiring the forces of your ennemy.
- Yves de Peretti, there are many tales concerning the movie "Taboo". Well, legends, reality, Murnau, Taboo ?
- For sure, Murnau has had a lot of trouble to make this film, and this film has become a damned film, not only because he lost his life at the end of the filming, but also because the filming was meddled in with many problems. First, the problem of the financing, since he never got the money he was waiting for. He had to use his personal founds to make it. And then, there have been a number of accidents on the filming scene. some of them are proven, some others are more or less legendary. There was an assistant, who had his hand burnt by an exploding torch, which was used in a nocturne scene. There were things like this. What is for sure, this is that Murnau took pleasure in violating taboos by himself: First, by filming in Bora-Bora, in an islet -the Motutatu- on which people of Bora-Bora, in those time, were not going, because Bora-Bora was an extremely belligerent island in the old time, and this islet was sacred, taboo. And this islet was in the middle of the lagoon, which is was very advantageous in term of plastic; and this is why he found fancy to go there, and moreover I think he wanted to meet and compare himself very concretely with the taboo. He felt in Polynesia like he was invested of a power, that would allow him to get over those taboos, and he took this risk. The biggest consequence was Murnau's death. He paid for all this, at least from a Polynesian point of view.
- How did he die ?
- He was killed in a car crash. He had left the wheel to a very good-looking young man, but who had apparently no experience in driving. And this has probably got him to his fate. there were also dirtier gossips in Hollywood, about his behaviour in the car. I investigated this, I saw the documents that the family had got. The accident is due to an imprudence, this is clear. Now, is this a punishment by the taboo... What is for sure, this is that this movie was doomed for a very long time. It has always been considered as a very particular masterpiece.
- Marie-Frédérique Baquet, you are a Psychanalist, Professor of Psychology at the University Louis Pasteur of Strasbourg, and vice-president of the society of thanatology. Has Death been always a Taboo, in our History ?
- Maybe we need to talk first about Thanatology, because the word reveals itself the taboo, eventually. Instead of saying that we work on death, we work on thanatology. Thanatos is the God of Death. So thi tiltle itself