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?

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