All over the world, diverse indigenous cultures and religious practices have diverse perception on menstruation and menstrual taboo. These indigenous perceptions towards menstruation and menstrual taboo were born out of their
immediate experience, unexplainable coincidence, man’s attempt to give meanings to the divine, and so on. These interpretations exist without any certifiable evidence to support their claims and assertions.
These cultural and religious perceptions of menstruation and menstrual taboo are widely spread with uncomfortable similarities, that cuts across every facet of the world. These similarities gravitate toward the supernatural and patriarchy which its ripple effect demonize the female menstrual cycle as a parameter for a man’s destruction.
Within the religious circle, the perception of menstruation and menstrual taboo isn’t favorable as well. It emboldens indigenous perception that “Sees menstruating women as cursed, unclean, impure and brings bad luck”, this idea excludes menstruations as a natural function and gave rise to the stigma, guilt, and shame attached to menstruation.
Within Christian and Islamic faiths, this negative perception of menstruation and menstrual taboo is also deeply rooted.
Ancient Christians believes that a menstruating woman is very dangerous and social restriction should be placed on her. They believed that a menstruating woman’s gaze can negatively affect the weather, putrefy meat and cause a man to have bad lucks during hunts. She’s also expected to be restricted from worship, cooking, etc, and in need of “a ritual wash” to be clean again.
The religious perception of menstruation and menstrual taboo isn’t limited to Christianity and Islam, other spiritual belief system such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Igbo spirituality has their perception of menstruation and menstrual rites.
Cultural perception of menstruation and menstrual taboo within the Igbo context.
Beyond biology, menstruation is a spiritual time for deep connection, self-reflection, revitalization, and a powerful cycle in a woman’s life. It is in tuned with the cycle of the moon and a powerful aspect of creative energy.
Within Igbo cosmology, a woman’s body is considered a powerful gateway from the spiritual to the physical(Making reference to birth). When this creative energy is not fully utilized, it expresses itself in the menstrual flow.
Our ancestors saw social restriction as a time to exclude women from active duty while the women saw it as a time to harness the moon’s energy, enabling them to embark on astral projections(Ije na mmuo), after which these women paint out what they saw using the Uli.
Unfortunately, this perception has been corrupted, hence menstruation and menstrual taboo are now considered a spiritual abomination.
This corruption is the result of a gap in our ancestral knowledge, including man’s constant effort to control the social narrative and the divine feminine.
The Igbo modern-day narrative attributes menstruation to feelings of shame and disgust instead of pride and divinity. Defining menstruation as impure and a menstruating woman dirty breeds a sense of shame and filth in the minds of young and adult women.
Every religion and culture has some sort of menstrual rite which has been imposed on women; such restrictions include:
1. The menstrual hut: In ancient Igbo societies, menstrual huts or caves were considered sacred and strictly out-of-bounds for all men. In some other societies such as Nepal, a Hindi society. The menstrual hut is called Chhaupadi, a small mud house where women and children are subjected, for a period of 5 days. These menstrual huts exist outside the villages exposing these women to attacks.
In Nepal, this menstrual rite has proven to be deadly and has led to the death of women and young girls. Several reports of animal attacks, asphyxiation, and molestation have been recorded because of this cultural practice. The locals claim that this practice was instituted to prevent bad omens such as the loss of cows and goats and most importantly to avoid the wrath of the God’s as consequences for violating this custom. Currently, this practice has been abolished in Nepal and has criminal sanctions.
Ritual cleansing: From both religious and cultural perspectives, a menstruating woman is considered to be impure and in need of ritual cleansing. Within the Igbo context, a woman is expected to cleanse herself with ogilish leaf and alligator pepper before she can resume her normal life while in Nepal a feast is thrown after 12 days of incarceration.
Social Restriction: Apart from a woman not being able to live freely while menstruating, she’s not expected to touch fresh food items, spiritual or sacred items, livestock, etc. This restriction in a religious context doesn’t allow women to enter sacred spaces.
These menstrual taboos are a key factors keeping women from positions of power.
The attribution of negativity to menstruation is an aberration of culture and history. The menstrual energy in most contexts is a powerful force capable of stifling and destroying actual negative forces.
In Igbo land, women in their cycle are encouraged to stay clear of sacred locations such as shrines or Ihu mmuo, due to spiritual reasons. For example, Igbos consider blood as sacred. It is seen as a liquified form of life that must be honored and regarded without exceptions. Primordial Igbo deities or energies abhor the sight of human blood in whatever form, therefore, for a woman in her cycle sitting before them to offer a sacrifice or prayers, the primordial’s perceive this as being fed human blood.
Indigenous, religious, and spiritual interpretations of menstruation, gave rise to menstrual guilt, shame, and stigma. Our perception of menstruation should be perceived as a time to release old and negative energies and begin a new phase of self-growth and reflection. That to me sounds like something worth celebrating as the original interpretation of menstruation.