Tapu (Polynesian culture)  

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Tapu (or tabu) is a concept existing in many Polynesian societies, including traditional Māori, Samoan and Tongan cultures. It reflects something that is holy or sacred, as "spiritual restriction" or "implied prohibition"; it involves rules and prohibitions. The English word "taboo" derives from this usage, and was adopted by Captain James Cook during his visit to Tonga in 1777. The cognate word in the Hawaiian language culture is kapu. The Rotuman term for the concept is "ha'a".

In Māori tradition

In Māori and Tongan tradition, something that is tapu (Māori) or tabu (Tongan) is considered inviolable or sacrosanct due to its sacredness. Things or places which are tapu must be left alone, and may not be approached or interfered with. In some cases, they should not even be spoken of.

In Māori society the concept was often used by tohunga (priests) to protect resources from over-exploitation, by declaring a fishery or other resource as tapu (see rāhui).

There are two kinds of tapu, the private (relating to individuals) and the public tapu (relating to communities). A person, an object or a place, which is tapu, may not be touched by human contact, in some cases, not even approached. A person, object or a place could be made sacred by tapu for a certain time.

In pre-contact society, tapu was one of the strongest forces in Māori life. A violation of tapu could have dire consequences, including the death of the offender through sickness or at the hands of someone affected by the offence. In earlier times food cooked for a person of high rank was tapu, and could not be eaten by an inferior. A chief's house was tapu, and even the chief could not eat food in the interior of his house. Not only were the houses of people of high rank perceived to be tapu, but also their possessions including their clothing. Burial grounds and places of death were always tapu, and these areas were often surrounded by a protective fence.

Today, tapu is still observed in matters relating to sickness, death, and burial:

  • Tangihanga or funeral rites may take two or three days. The deceased lies in state, usually in an open coffin flanked by female relatives dressed in black, their heads sometimes wreathed in kawakawa leaves, who take few and short breaks. During the day, visitors come, sometimes from great distances despite only a distant relationship, to address the deceased. They may speak frankly of his or her faults as well as virtues, but singing and joking are also appropriate. Free expression of grief by both men and women is encouraged. Traditional beliefs may be invoked, and the deceased told to return to the ancestral homeland, Hawaiki, by way of te rerenga wairua, the spirits' journey. The close kin or kiri mate ("dead skin") may not speak. On the last night, the pō whakamutunga (night of ending), the mourners hold a vigil and at sunrise the coffin is closed, before a church or marae funeral service and/or graveside interment ceremony, invariably Christian. It is traditional for mourners to wash their hands in water and sprinkle some on their heads before leaving a cemetery. After the burial rites are completed, a feast is traditionally served. Mourners are expected to provide koha or gifts towards the meal. After the burial, the home of the deceased and the place they died are ritually cleansed with karakia (prayers or incantations) and desanctified with food and drink, in a ceremony called takahi whare, trampling the house. That night, the pō whakangahau (night of entertainment) is a night of relaxation and rest. The widow or widower is not left alone for several nights following.
  • During the following year, the kinfolk of a prominent deceased person will visit other marae, "bringing the death" (kawe mate) to them. They carry pictures of the person on to the marae.
  • Unveilings of headstones (hura kōwhatu) are usually held about a year after a death, often on a public holiday to accommodate visitors who could not get to the tangihanga. The dead are remembered and more grief expressed.

Noa

In Māori tradition, noa is the opposite to tapu. Noa means common, non-sacred, or free from tapu (sometimes because tapu has been broken). While tapu is conidered a positive force, associated with life, immortality, masculine objects and women of the highest rank, noa is its antithesis, a negative force associated with death and feminine objects.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Tapu (Polynesian culture)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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