Maori Tapu - its significance The Tattoo (Ta Moko)

Essay by shantanukHigh School, 10th gradeB, July 2004

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Tapu is the strongest force in Maori life. It has numerous meanings and references. Tapu can be interpreted as "sacred", or defined as "spiritual restriction" or "implied prohibition", containing a strong imposition of rules and prohibitions. 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, and the two main types of tapu were private and public. Private tapu concerned individuals, and public tapu concerned communities.

In earlier times, tribal members of a higher rank would not touch objects which belonged to members of a lower rank. This was considered "pollution". Similarly, persons of a lower rank could not touch the belongings of a highborn person. Death was the penalty.

A breach of "tapu" was to commit a hara (violation) could incur the wrath of the Gods.

Certain objects were particularly tapu, so much so that it was a dangerous act to even touch them, apart from suitably qualified priests. In 1772 the French explorer Marion du Fresne was killed for breaching a particular "tapu".

In earlier times food cooked for a chief 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. A woman could not enter a chief's house unless a special religious ceremony was performed. (the karakia)

An ariki (chief) and a tohunga (healer or priest) were lifelong tapu persons. Not only were their houses tapu but also their possessions, including their clothing. Burying grounds (urupa) and places of death (wahi tapu) were always tapu, and these areas were often surrounded by a protective fence.

Two other types of...