February 13, 2011

Kapu - Royalty Above the Polynesians

Hawaii Kapu word is usually translated into English as "prohibited", but it also involves using "holy", "initiate" or "holy". In ancient Hawaii, Kapu refers to the old system of laws and regulations. An offense that was Kapu was often a corporal offense, but also often called a threat to spiritual power, or theft of mana. Kapus was strictly enforced. Breaking an even unintentionally often meant instant death. The concept is related to taboo and deed or taboo in other Polynesian cultures.

http://www.hawaiihighways.com/kapu-sign2.jpg

Most famous are the restrictions on contact with chiefs (kings), but these also apply to all people with known spiritual power. It was Kapu enter a chieftain personal sphere to get in touch with his hair or fingernail clippings, to look directly at him and be in sight of him with a head taller than his. Wearing red and yellow feathers (a sign of royalty) was Kapu, unless you were of the highest rank. Places Kapu often symbolized by two crossed staffs, each with a white ball on top.

http://www.iwikupuna.com/KAPU_STICKS_op_514x600.jpg

The Kapu system also governed contact between men and women. In particular, men and women could not eat meals together. Furthermore, certain foods such as pork, some types of bananas (which they resembled a phallus), and coconuts were Kapu women. As these examples suggest, the sense of the term in Polynesia carries connotations of sacredness as much as forbidden-ness. Probably the best way to translate it into English is "marked off" or ritually limited. The opposite of Kapu's "Noah" which means "common" or "Free".

"Kapu" restrictions were also used to regulate the Hawaiian fishing in order to preserve the long-term viability of marine life in 1700 and the 1800s. Some fish and / or designated areas was banned (or Kapu) at times when over-fishing can harm the environment. This corresponds to the modern regulation of supervision and regulation of fishing and hunting through licensing, but was well before "modern" era and showed great insight into sustainable living.

The Kapu system was used in Hawaii until 1819, when King Kamehameha II, which deals with his mother and his father Keopuolani Queen Ka'ahumanu, abolished it by the symbolic act of sharing a meal with forbidden foods with the women in his court.


Hawaii's history is rich with these practices for centuries. Many natives still use the practice of "Kapu", forbidding access to many of those deemed not ready. Other take it in a much lighter sense, much like the English "Keep Out" sign, or the "Do Not Disturb".

So next time you go to Hawaii, and don't want anyone to bother you, just hang "Kapu" on your door, and most will get the hint!

60 comments:

  1. thanks for the info! Hopefully i go to Hawaii soon!

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  2. Hmm, thats quite a different translation to what the word is being used for in english lol.

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  3. Great post, edit the text though it hurts the eyes.

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  4. Good to know cultural taboos. This will keep me from looking like a fool when I travel.

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  5. Very interesting.

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  6. whoa. wish i could read that text haha. little tough on the eyes.

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  7. thanks for the lesson learned a lot and it was a nice read

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  8. Interesting post. Have seen "Kapu" before but never knew what it meant.

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  9. I've always been fascinated with Hawaiian history. It's interesting how you guys have Greek and Roman influence with the toga and that trojan looking helmet.

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  10. All good info. Thanks for the post

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  11. Pretty interesting actually, I have NEVER really thought about Hawaiian culture until reading what you write. I didn't think it could be so... in depth with their own society. I'm loving your writing.

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  12. Thanks for the lesson, this will come in handy when I go to Hawaii (which is in never)

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  13. Interesting , I was unaware of the native practices in Hawaii. This is pretty cool.

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  14. When I'll go to Hawaii I'll keep that in mind, although it would cost me a lot to go there

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  15. ive always wanted to go to hawaii.

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  16. wow great way to learn about the cultural roots of hawaii

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  17. Hawaii is so beautiful i really do hope so much i can go there someday! :)

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  18. I had some Hawaiian BBQ for dinner !

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  19. good post, i could read the text fine personally

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  20. I would love to take a trip there sometime with some extra cash. I here the place is amazing.

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  21. Thanks for the info man, I'll keep this in mind for whenever I decide to go to Hawaii

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  22. gonna visit the big island soon

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  23. it's apity we can't do the same here :( people take keep out signs as a joke these days :S

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  24. never been to hawaii, but now i know to avoid doors with that word if i ever go lol.

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  25. This was great! Being from Hawai'i, it's easy to see how much I still have to learn just from reading this. This was a great read indeed.

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  26. You learn new things every day, especially with the internet. Im going to Hawaii this summer, glad I know about the Kapu system now.

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  27. Just got back from Hawai'i. What a sick place. Just had an awesome, beautiful time.

    Even though my sister's wedding "practitioner" was an absolute nut.

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  28. Nice to know something about "Kapu"

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  29. Thats very interesting. The Maoris use the word 'Tapu' to mean the exact same thing hmmmm

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  30. Nice info, learned a great deal about Hawai'i thanks to you!

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  31. Very interesting read. I have thoroughly enjoyed every post made on here so far!

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  32. Hawaii sounds like a nice place, but some of these traditions are a bit odd. But hey, good to know this stuff for if I ever visit.

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  33. I wanna travel to Hawaii.... :-(
    But great post, very interesting!

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  34. Such a rich culture. The more I learn about it the better I like it.

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  35. seems...so...spiritual and peaceful...not like here :(

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  36. So if I go to Hawaii, stay away from Kapu... gotcha ^^

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  37. You live in such a beautiful place, with a history that is so underrated, I really hope I can get there some time in my life.

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  38. very intressting read ty for this its always good to learn new things

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  39. Interesting post man. I'll be checking this blog out.

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  40. Fascinating. I never knew. Wasn't Kamehameha the last king of hawaii?

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  41. Never been to hawaii myself, but now I want to go just to hang Kapu all over the place

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  42. My buddy is going to Hawaii, I hope he gets Kapu'd hardcore

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  43. I've always found Hawaii's culture to be very interesting. I've probably learned more here then in history class.

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  44. Such an elegant way to say 'stay the hell out of my hotel room.' xD

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  45. This read was something out of the ordinary for me, however really enjoyed it. You know your stuff that's for sure. Would like to see more, thanks for the post.

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  46. wow, so interesting. i like the idea of kapu. maybe it'd stop people eating my food.

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  47. Wow didnt know that at all. Good post

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  48. that no trespassing sign doesnt look very threatening.

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  49. that's a neat little phrase i didn't know before. thanks for sharing

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  50. Any tribe that uses the word Kamehameha is okay in my book...

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