So a while ago I wrote a little post on taboo, which I cleverly titled…Taboo. In it, I wrote some words about some stuff, with the main idea being there are certain things that we have all come to accept as ‘taboo’, and sometimes it’s good to just go ahead and break the different taboos that are surrounding you. Well, today in my (ahem) cross cultural communication class (woo alliteration!), I learned some more stuff about taboo. And then, because I had wandered into something to wonder, I proceeded to head to my favorite internet search engine, Google, and start typing. And I found out some pretty cool stuff.
As it turns out, taboo is actually a pretty old word. I didn’t know how old it was, or where it came from, until today. But I wrote a whole blog post about it. Anyway. Taboo actually comes from the beautiful state of Hawaii. To be more accurate, it comes from the Polynesian explorers who first discovered the Hawaiian island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean some 1,500 years ago. Since Hawaii is a volcanic island chain supposedly millions of years old, these folks were the first humans to arrive there, one of the only conquests of exploration that I am aware of that did not end in European diseases wiping out a majority of the indigenous population.
But speaking of Europeans and their diseases, it is a European who we have to thank for all of our knowledge about the ancient Hawaiians, and their culture. I’m sure there’s some irony in that. Yes, Capt. James Cook of Great Britain “discovered” the island chain in 1778, and was then killed by some angry Hawaiians when he captured one of their chiefs to try and reclaim a boat of his that had fallen into indegenous hands. In any event, his landing in Hawaii gave the west some exposure to the Hawaiian culture, simultanously demolishing it by giving the Hawaiians exposure to smallpox. But, before they were totally demolished, we did learn some stuff about them.
The ancient Hawaiians actually had a pretty cool social structure. It was comprised into several classes, the most revered being the Ali’i. The next class down was called the Kahuna, and consisted of people such as preists, so next time you say ‘the big kahuna’ be sure it’s to a priest. The people of Hawaii were goverened by a concept known as Kapu, which to put it in terms your average American might understand, was stuff that the god’s said was holy.
For ancient Hawaiians, Kapu was a religion, and simultanously a way of life. It focused heavily on the opposing pairs, such as good and evil, day and night, sky and earth, and male and female. It’s origins can be traced to the Hawaiian’s Kumipilo, or creation story. During the day, sacred things, such as the gods, and man, were created. One side of every pair was considered to be sacred, or forbidden, and the other side was unsacred, or commonplace. The idea was that there were certaint things that would be kept sacred, for the gods, and other things that didn’t really upset the gods so much. The higher up the caste structure you were, the stricter Kapu was. The punishment for breaking Kapu was also severe, sometimes death in the form of human sacrifice. For instance, if a member of the servent class was found to be breaking Kapu, particularly in offense to a member of the Ali’i he could be sacrificed to one of the personal gods of that Ali’i member. Cool.
Kapu also had a large part in dictating which foods could be eaten, and at what times. For instance, the first crops of a harvest would be Kapu, but the rest of the harvest would be OK to eat. Certain foods, such as pork and bananas were Kapu, but others (dog and sweet potato) were OK to eat. In addition, it was forbidden for men and women to eat in each others presence. Kapu also dictated things relating to marriages between the ancient Hawaiian people. The idea of Kapu was, essentially, where the ancient Hawaiians got their customs from.
Kapu ended in 1819, during the reign of King Kamehameha I (what a fun name), when he violated Kapu by dining in the presence of females. At this point, when Kamehameha wasn’t smited into oblivion by one of the Hawaiian gods, the Hawaiians realized that Kapu was kind of a silly thing, and most of them just sort of abandoned it. At the time this was quite the social upheaval in paradise. In fact, Kamehameha was the first Hawaiian ruler not to recieve a sacrificial escort to the eternal beyond upon his death. This is actually quite startling, when you sit down and think about it. Because this can be viewed from out side of the Hawaiian’s cave, we can actually see it for what it was. The Hawaiians realized that their way of life, their religion, was bogus, so they just abandoned it. Which makes you wonder, what’s outside of our cave?
In light of the above paragraph, I will say this. I’m not using this to disprove anything, and I’m not saying that this means that any religion is bogus (except for Kapu, there’s really no arguing that one). I am saying, it’s enough to make you wonder.
We come back from our visit to ancient Hawaii, to find our word, taboo. To my limited knowledge it is no longer a religion or a way of life for any (normal-ish) person. But it does retain its meaning, sacred or forbidden. While we use it today much less rigidly than its inventors, and without punishment of human sacrifice, the basic idea is similar. And, quite fittingly, the original post which sparked this one is still true, when you trace it back to its roots. The things that we think are taboo, might not actually be taboo. I guess it all depends on whether or not you want to throw them out there, and have dinner with your mom. Thanks for reading.