Kapu and All Things Forbidden

Diana Beebe's Blog, Mermaids Don't Do Windows, Diana Beebe, science fiction, middle grade fantasy, fantasyAs part of my research into ancient culture in Hawaii, I learned the word kapu.

The ancient tribes (I’m talking before Captain Cook showed up and “discovered” the islands) had rules. It was a very structured society where the men hunted and cooked and the women made clothing.

I kinda like that idea that men did the cooking. 😉

Kapu is the word they used (and still do) to say that something was forbidden. These were some of the laws that the ancient ones followed that my time-traveling sisters may or may not get into trouble breaking:

  • No one could step in the shadow of the chief.
  • Women and men did not eat meals together.
  • No one went into the forests unless there was a specific reason for it.
  • Women were not allowed to eat bananas, except for one or two varieties.
  • Women were not allowed to prepare or cook meals. Only men were allowed to cook at the big pits.
  • Women did not hula dance.

When we went to Maui last summer, there were many signs that said, “Kapu” to tell people to keep out of private property. I was sure that we took at least one picture of a handmade sign, but I couldn’t find it! So I grabbed this public domain one from Wikimedia Commons:

Diana Beebe's Blog, Mermaids Don't Do Windows, Diana Beebe, science fiction, middle grade fantasy, fantasy
Public Domain photo from Wikimedia Commons. by Charles O’Rear, 1941-, Photographer (NARA record: 3403717;

Obviously, most of those kapu laws don’t exist anymore. The ones that do are all about respecting and caring for the forests and natural resources—good ecological sense in any time.

Diana Beebe's Blog, Mermaids Don't Do Windows, Diana Beebe, science fiction, middle grade fantasy, fantasyThere are so, so, so many sources for information about the ancient Hawaiian laws. I found most of them in library books. Yes, I do real life research with books sometimes! 😀 These were three that I checked out:

The children’s book simplifies the culture a lot, which was helpful writing for middle grade. The ancient Hawaiians had a rich, complex culture. It wasn’t easy deciding on mythology to use in my book, because most of their mythology stories are rated R for adult content and violence and not for middle grade eyes.

Kapu laws were as complex as the culture. Some of the laws were punishable by death. YIkes! As the Hawaiians were Westernized, most kapu laws were dropped.

Can you imagine a Hawaii without women hula dancers? What do you think about some of the kapu laws that I listed?

10 comments on… “Kapu and All Things Forbidden”

  1. When I was growing up in New England, they still had many of the “Blue Laws”. The one we were reminded of the most was No dancing on Sunday. We spent a lot of time on the boardwalk and in the arcade on weekends where all the “kids” hung out. We would hang around the jukebox playing all the “tunes” and even though we didn’t thing we were “dancing”, just nodding, or tapping a foot, or wiggling a little to the beat of the music irritated the adults enough to complain. The “no-dancing-on-Sunday police” finally started unplugging the jukebox so we had to go find something else to do.

    • Diana Beebe

      The Blue Laws were a lot like kapu laws! I’d forgotten about those. Some of them were just as crazy. No dancing on Sundays! Thanks for sharing that story. 😀

  2. Sydney Aaliyah

    I like this word. Kapu. I think I will add it to my vocabulary. haha. Not that I do too many things that are forbidden.

    • Diana Beebe

      It’s an interesting word, isn’t it? I’m not sure how to work it into a conversation though. LOL

  3. I like he reality of the man doing the cooking, but it wouldn’t work in our house. David is a decent enough cook, but he’s a Louisiana boy, and he puts so much hot sauce in everything he cooks that no one but him can eat it. Another enjoyable post!

  4. It sounds like you could do a Kapu Laws of Writing post. Hubby doesn’t cook? My wife loves to have me cook. Hmm. I wonder why women weren’t allowed to eat most bananas? Strange.

    • Diana Beebe

      Oh, my husband cooks. He does all the grilling, so I can’t complain. 😉 I don’t get the banana law at all. There was no explanation for that in any of the research I did. Baffling!

    • Diana Beebe

      LOL. I wouldn’t have trouble with this rule. I’m not a banana fan. 😉

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