Tapu

Tapu is a concept referred to throughout Māoridom, and it is no different for Moriori. In fact, some have said that Moriori themselves were a tapu people.

Many of the ‘rules’ around tapu are well known. Others, have taken some time to be understood by our predominantly non-Māori society. An example would be where commercial products, particularly foods, have been labelled with iconography of Māori dieties or atua. The gods are tapu. To then put imagery of them on items of food is breaking tapu and showing an incredible lack of respect by desecrating that deity.

Likewise, putting your bag, hat or sitting your bum on a table or eating surface is extremely bad behaviour. The practicalities behind it are quite logical. Imagine if someone had hair lice and then plopped their hat down on an eating surface. Those that sat there next or sat next to them would be treated to a free helping of louse with their kai.

Likewise, if they were to place their suitcase on the table. What if that suitcase which just prior had been sitting on the ground had just accidentally (and unknowingly) accumulated some foreign bodies on it such as animal faeces or dirt, mud, etc? That would not go down well with fellow diners.

Aside from the obvious distaste of having someone’s kumu placed on the table where one is about to eat from, there is also a well established  historical rationale behind (no pun intended) this. Traditionally, the clothes that Māori wore did not provide much cover for the kumu, so having a bare kumu sit on your eating platform would have been highly offensive and insulting.

So what do you think Tapu means? Take the test below.

“Your task is to write an explanation of the meaning of the word Tapu – in your own words.”

“The catch?”

“You must do it in less than 600 characters. Each space counts as one character.”

Clues: “Tapu is the strongest force in Māori life. It can be interpreted as ‘sacred’, or defined as a ‘spiritual restriction’, that imposes rules and prohibitions. Noa, which means common is the opposite of tapu. Traditionally, the rules of tapu were rules of negation or prohibition. Tapu, was once backed by a belief in powerful, jealous and revengeful gods and was enmeshed in practically every phase of Maori life.”

 

Our solution  is down below

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Tapu is the strongest foce in Maori Life. Traditionally, it was a set of conventions, rules and behaviours that were designed to not upset the Gods, but also to protect people from themselves. Often, tapu were practical in nature. Eg; keeping the area in front of the meeting house clear ‘at all times’ allows those inside the whare hui to keep an eye for approaching visitors, hostile or friendly. And it enabled those inside to get outside in a hurry if they needed too. It was never about keeping the entranceway neat and tidy, or being overly possessive of that area.