protecting the odor soul

We’ve reported on smell before at the gimcrack here and here and here. But there’s still more to be found at the Social Issues Research Centre

“Among the Amazonian Desana, for example, all members of a tribal group a believed to share a similar odour. Marriage is only allowed between persons of different odours, so spouses must be chosen from other tribal groups. This belief is expressed in rituals involving the exchanges of goods with different odours: one group will present the other with a gift of meat, for example, and receive fish in return. Some rituals involve the exchange of differently scented ants.

image found here

The Batek Negrito of the Malay Peninsula take the same taboo on the odour-mixing of close relatives a stage further: not only is sexual intercourse between those of similar odour prohibited, but even sitting too close to one another for too long is considered dangerous. Any prolonged mixing of similar personal odours is believed to cause disease in the people involved and in any children they may conceive.

The dangers of odour-mixing are even more extreme for another Malay Peninsula people, the Temiar. The Temiar believe that each person has an odour-soul, located in the lower back. If you pass too closely behind a person, the odour-soul is disturbed and mingles with your body, causing disease. This must be prevented by calling out ‘odour, odour’ whenever you approach a person from behind, so that the odour-soul is forewarned of the intrusion.

For the Dogon people of Mali, odour and sound are believed to be intrinsically related because both travel on air – the Dogon speak of ‘hearing’ a smell. In addition, speech itself is believed to be scented: good speech – with appropriate grammar and pronunciation – smells pleasant (in Dogon terms, this means an odour of oil and cooking, which are highly valued), while nasal, indistinct or ungrammatical speech has an unpleasant, stagnant odour. Ten-year-old children who persist in making mistakes of grammar or pronunciation will have their noses pierced as a corrective.

Western notions of aesthetically pleasing fragrances are by no means universal. For the cattle-raising Dassanetch of Ethiopia, no scent is more beautiful than the odour of cows. The association of this scent with social status and fertility is such that the men wash their hands in cattle urine and smear their bodies with manure, while the women rub butter into their heads, shoulders and breasts to make themselves smell more attractive.

The Dogon of Mali would find these customs incomprehensible. For the Dogon, the scent of onion is by far the most attractive fragrance a young man or woman can wear. They rub fried onions all over their bodies as a highly desirable perfume.

I highly recommend visiting this site and reading more about the perfume box rituals of Arab countries

Published in: on December 14, 2009 at 7:03 am  Comments (53)  
Tags: , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

53 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very interesting to me. I thoroughly enjoy my sense of smell. One of my favourite essential oil combinations is geranium/lavender/vetiver. Soothing. And delightful.

  2. Vetiver! I love vetiver

  3. I’m fascinated by that face glove thingy too. To be worn three times a week!

  4. Anthropology made fun, interesting stuff Nursie. Plus you have a photo of the best vase ever.

  5. I smell ……

  6. Oooh nursey darling…can we see a picture of you wearing that sexy underwear in pixx 4…i bet you’d look amazing!

    • I haven’t got any underwear quite like that…yet….

  7. I visited the site – excellent. There’s a book by Lyall Watson called Jacobson’s Organ about the sense of smell. Includes information about pheromones (which we sense with our noses despite their having no odour and which plants apparently use to communicate amongst themselves too!).

    • I’m a big fan of that book. Probably Watson’s best.

      • Cool, sledpress! You are the first person I have ever come across that has also read that book. I found it truly fascinating.

  8. and don’t forget The Emperor of Scent

  9. Sadly my olfactory powers were always greatly diminished by a deivated septum. With the deviant since corrected, my sense of smell is still under par, which, compared with my sister’s keen as a beagle’s olfactory powers, seems virtually non-existent.

    Perhaps rubbing myself all over with butter will help this?

    • Rubbing butter on those beautiful breasts of yours would certainly help attract John Safran

      • Well, to be fair once breasts and rubbing are involved, really any man is going to be attracted.

        That pic of the women with the feathery underwear disturbs me, I think I just discovered that I’d be attracted to a women with a tail…

  10. “the Dogon speak of ‘hearing’ a smell”

    reminds me of a favorite line from Ghostbusters: “Listen! Do you smell something?”

    • Reminds me of something a friend once said “Sorry, I can’t hear you, the sun’s in my eyes”

  11. Hearing a smell? Almost as bad as seeing a Middle-C.

    Aphasia rules!

    • I’d rather have synaethesia

      • Vladimir Nabokov and his wife Vera both had synaesthesia.

      • SE – you know EVERYTHING xx

      • I do not.

  12. There is sound biological sense in the first bit, incest and all that… intrigued by the placing of my odour soul.

    Me too on the vetiver love-in mmmmmm Guerlain for men

  13. Unlike the Desana, the wife and I have differently-scented aunts but we have never exchanged them. And wowee, I can’t help but imagine having the lady in the feather duster panties over to take on a few of my neglected surfaces.

    Dusty Mights

  14. Do you like when men wear cologne? I always avoided it under the impression that it was kind of girly for a man to perfume himself. Then I dated a girl who was driven into wild sexual fits by Ralph Lauren’s Polo. You can bet I changed my tune.

    • I prefer a man’s natural body scent. I keep Stephen’s worn t shirt in an airtight bag so I can still take it out and smell it sometimes.

      Very occasionally he wore Calvin Klein One so I have a fondness for that too but it doesn’t smell the same on anybody else.

  15. And as for those Japanese vending machines… Could give ‘Gimcrack’ a whole new meaning!

    The King

  16. Mmmm… fried onions. They taste good on a cheese steak.

  17. The bit about marrying outside of one’s odor group is probably linked to diet. What one eats has a tremendous effect on how one smells.

    Viet-Cong soldiers were often able to detect up-wind American patrols by smell alone. Americans were said to smell like butter or bacon on account of the large quantities of dairy and livestock they ate in comparison to the fish and rice diet common to natives.

    • I have found many vegetarians to have a light sweet personal smell. I do not however include myself if I have been having a lentil fest. 😉

  18. I really don’t understand people raising a stink about odor.

  19. You can definitely “hear smells” after chilli day.

  20. I need more info on what a Toilet mask is.

  21. Such an interesting information about the amazonian indians:)

  22. Ah, love is in the air.


  23. all my ants smelled the same, lilac dusting powder. Except one on the other side of the family who was adverse to personal hygiene.

  24. I guess a bacon grease fetish isn’t so creepy anymore.

  25. I’m afraid my name is Jimmy-nae-pals today. If only I hadn’t eaten that last portion of Korma before I went to my bed. It’ll take a stong man to pull that duvet off the ceiling.

  26. mmm I wonder where the person who left a smelly aroma in the lift at work today fits in???

  27. mmm … I’m left wondering quite how bad someone who is gorgeous needs to smell before you decide they are not worth pursuing?

    A fine article nurse … I’ve been in some very compromising situations today as a result – sniffing people who didn’t know I’d been reading this has been a challenging experience!


    • Hey Ploop! Welcome back (but not if you’re hiding a syringe of Jeffrey Archer behind your back)

  28. Pretty interesting stuff. And I like the flower duster/bunny tail underwear. I also like the way men smell without cologne – one of the major reasons I could never be a full blown lesbian – I’d miss that smell too much. 🙂 But the right cologne in the right amount on the right man has something to be said for it as well.

  29. Gardenia on a summer’s night, and the scent of a woman…

    Pity about difference of opinion re T.A. Nurse, love your blog though.

    • Yes I’m afraid I think he’s a bit of a tosser. But I’m glad it hasn’t turned you off the blog 😉

  30. Clearly I needed an odor mask today during one of our touristy excursions here in Texas. I stepped in something unidentifyable and proceeded to carry it with me throughout the remainder of our day. Love the idea of exchanging scented ants!

  31. Reminder to self: change the kitty litter and put an onion in my handbag.

    • the onion will only work if it’s fried 😉

  32. Natural Odors are always bad, depends upon the smell

  33. Rub themselves with onion? Turns out every cab driver in this city is a Dogon. Interesting.

  34. I smell the king’s spare armour sometimes when he’s out jousting. swoon

  35. Scent is highly underrated as a subconscious primer. Over the past summer, a friend of mine was staring down the barrel of the mistimed midweek Canada Day, prepared to work the Thursday/Friday. He had scheduled a field ride with an idiot sales rep notorious for flatulence, and just the thought of the anticipated noxious fumes overrode his otherwise puritan work ethic. He got last minute clearance to take the days off, flew to Toronto the next day and had one of the best times of his life.

    • Hey Michael, welcome to the Gimcrack. Love your blog!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: