July 14, 2007

Foods Native Americans consider taboo


I am doing a research project for my nutrition class and have to find out about foods that were prohibited for native americans but have had no luck so far, could you give some information or point me in the right direction?
~Submitted by Gabriela L.

The Gabrielino Indians, were so called because of their proximity to San Gabriel Mission, established in California in 1771. They considered bears, rattlesnakes, and owls taboo. Other food restrictions occurred by ceremony. New mothers fasted and only drank warm water. New fathers fasted at the birth of the child, and were not permitted to fish or hunt. Hunters fasted during the hunting party, and they were not expected to eat their own catch. There were special foods and drink prepared only for initiation ceremonies for boys and girls at puberty.

In the old days, it was taboo for the Navajo to eat burned foods, especially breads. Another taboo food was chicken. This is no longer the case, and now chicken is an integral part of their diet. In fact, chicken is so popular that commercial fast-food chicken establishments have sprung up on the Navajo reservation. A concurrent increased incidence of gallbladder disease is attributed to this dietary practice.

According to a Jicarilla Apache legend, you can get a disease from snakes and bears, (perhaps it refers to the fever caused by snake bite or infection from a bear attack), but during the medicine feast of the ceremony to cure this, bread baked in the ashes is a taboo food. Still bear was eaten, but Apaches did not eat reptiles or fish. They also did not eat bacon or pork, because pigs ate those forbidden foods.

A Windigo legend is thought to have evolved as a taboo against cannibalism, which might be a temptation to peoples in lands where food was scarce. Historically, native americans and early European settlers have consumed the flesh of fellow humans in rituals and out of insanity, hatred, or overriding hunger — but almost never as a common part of their diet.

While religious practices varied from group to group, it was common that the eating of the totemic animal was considered taboo, either by the entire clan represented by it, or the individual with the personal animal totem. Not all tribes believed in totem animals, however.

Status might be expressed in special foods made and served only to chiefs, hunters, warriors, elders, or men. Among the Kwakiutl of the Northwest Coast, and all other tribes of this area, organ meats, including the heart and liver of the sea lion, were reserved for elders. Among the Ten’a of Alaska, only older men and women were allowed to eat mink and otter. The elderly were not always treated with such respect. Among the Kwakiutl, pectoral and anal fins of fish as well as tails and salmon-heads were also given to older tribal members.

Gluttony was taboo, a restriction that supported sharing, and was taught from the earliest age among all North American tribes. Among the tribes in the Iroquois Confederacy — the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca — the children were warned that eating too many maize cakes soaked in maple syrup would provoke a visit from the bogeyman Longnose.

Temporary or situational taboos often involved a lifecycle event, rite of passage or a particular group of poeple and only applied during that period. Salt taboos are an example. The western tribes observed this prohibition during pregnancy, birth, boys and girls’ puberty rites, menstruation, boy’s initiations, vision quests, and mourning periods. These taboos were seldom found all together in one tribe but it was rare not to have at least one in each culture. The same applied to eleven Southwestern cultures.<br

Boys in the Oneida tribe were not allowed to eat salt or anything hot when their voices changed. Young girls at puberty in the Northwest Coast cultures were forbidden meat.

Among the Ten’a of Alaska, women of childbearing age were not allowd to eat mink or otter. Otter was considered very powerful, a violation of the taboo would keep the animal away and inflict misfortune on the man who caught it. Young, unmarried girls were not allowed to eat lynx.

In many cultures, the event of menstration among women became the focus of many taboos. In the Cayuga, the Delaware, and cultures of the Northwest Coast, menstruating women were not allowed to touch or eat meat. Members of the ‘Ksan tribe believed their family would have bad luck in everything they did if this taboo was broken.

Delaware girls were not allowed to do any cooking during their periods; if they did, no one would dare eat for fear of abdominal pains.

The Creek culture forced women to live apart during menstration and eat from separate dishes and utensils rather than the communal bowl. They were not allowed to cook for men. If she did, a woman could be accused of any misfortune that befell the tribe.

The Mohawk prohibited women from pounding maize and touching food during menstration. Southwestern Indians forbade salt during menstration.

European, or white americans also had food taboos. Before Europeans came, there was no wheat in America or corn in Europe. Corn was the staple food of Indian peoples. It was replaced by wheat during the colonial periods and into the 19th century, as Europeans spread wheat across the territories, expanding from east to west, erasing Native American food ways and Native Americans themselves. Wheat became an important symbol of European American colonization across the Americas.

The Roman Catholic Church requires penance during Lent and on Fridays throughout the year. Traditional penance on Fridays is fasting from meat. However, a vegetarian, for example, would be required to fast in another way. Many native americans were “converted” to the Catholic religion by early missionaries and adopted these taboos.

Followers of Judaism and Islam as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses are forbidden to drink blood or eat food made with blood. Hot drinks are taboo for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and some other Mormon groups. For most Mormons this includes coffee and tea, and is often interpreted as a taboo against caffeine in general, including cola drinks.

Consumption of pigs is forbidden among Muslims, Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, and others. It is often said that pig flesh is the closest thing in nature to human flesh. In general, though not in all cases, mammals (not just humans) do not eat the meat of other meat-eaters.

Most caucasian americans consider eating dog meat and horse meat taboo, but both these meats are a staple in many countries around the world. The traditional culture surrounding the consumption of dog meat varied from tribe to tribe among the original inhabitants of North America, with some tribes relishing dog meat as a delicacy and others (such as the Comanche), treating it as an abhorrent practice. Indian peoples of the Great Plains such as the Sioux and Cheyenne consumed it, but there was a concurrent religious taboo against eating the meat of wild canines.

Horses and mules were so valuable in the hunt, war, and as pack animals that, contrary to popular belief, they were usually only eaten in times of famine when there was nothing else to eat, or during feasts for religious rituals or to honor important guests of honor.

Over the last few decades, the eating of whale and seal in the Americas has become increasingly taboo, with special laws even passed prohibiting or severely limiting their harvest. The United States Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 prohibits, with certain exceptions, the taking of marine mammals in United States waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the U.S. However, this is a staple food source for indiginous cultures of the far north, such as the Inuits,who have based their subsistence pracices on these animals for centuries, and they are still allowed a few special hunts for these animals. These hunts instigate heated debates and demonstrations by many other Americans, who see eating these animals as taboo.

Food is often seen in racial categories. Some foods such as coffee, chocolate and spices were seen as “wrong foods” and not as “white foods” during the 1800s and early 1900s. The turning point wasn’t completed until 1965, with the change of US immigration policy. Foods that were once taboo slowly began to appear in restaurants and on American tables.

Food in the U.S. is really a contradictory story —- what is American food is hard to define. Wheat, apples, a diet high in red meat, colorless and bland food was the norm for mainstream America a century ago. Spicy and complicated food arrived later on the scene and began to change the story of what really constitutes American food —- everything from Native American corn, squash and beans, to Southwestern, Tex Mex, Cajun and Creole, to the 19th-century introduction of an Italian dish called macaroni.

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