TABU, TAm3, or TAMBII, a Polynesian term, denoting an institution found every where, and always essentially the same, in the Polynesian islands and in New Zealand. Its primary meanings seem to be exactly the same as those of the Hebrew to'ebah. This word, like the Greek anathema, the Latin sacer, and the French seers (and the correspond ing and similar terms in most languages), has a double meaning—a good sense and a bad; it signifies on the one hand, sacred, consecrated; on the other hand, accursed, abominable, unholy. It results from a thing being held sacred, that certain acts are forbidden with reference to it, and from any act being deemed abominable, that it is forbidden; a notion of prohibition thus attaches to the word tabu, and this is in many cases, the most prominent notion connected with it. The term is often used substantively in the sense of a prohibition, a prohibitory commandment. If a burial ground has been con secrated, it is tabu; to fight in it is then an act sacrilegious and prohibited, and this also is tabu; moreover, those persons are tabu who have violated its sanctity by fighting in it, and they are, loosely and popularly, said to have broken the tabu. This example illustrates all the uses of the word. It has furnished to the English language the now familiar phrase of being " tabooed forbidden.
The extent to which, amoug the Polynesians and New Zealanders, things and acts are tabu, must appear almost incredible to Europeans unaware of the facts of savage life, Without much detail, it is impossible to convey any idea of it. The prohibitions, how ever, divide into two classes: one consisting of traditional rules, binding upon all, act ing through religious terror equally upon chiefs and people; the other,. of prohibitions imposed from time to time, obviously with the view of maintaining or extending the authority of the chiefs. Those of the first class are by far the most remarkable. Of the most important of them—those bearing upon what are called sacred things, those relating to the person of the chief, and those relating to intercourse between relatives— a few examples may be given.
Any house or piece of ground consecrated to a god is tabu, and thus affords an invio lable shelter to men fleeing from an enemy. A fortiori, all temples are tabu. To sit
upon or to touch the threshold of a temple is tabu to all except chiefs of the first order, the lesser chiefs may stride over the threshold, but common persons pass over it on their hands and knees. It is tabu to eat' the plant or animal believed to be the shrine of one's tutelary god. To come in the way of a funeral procession is severely tabu, for it is believed that the gods accompany the procession ; if any person were to disregard the warning chant of the mourners, they would rush at him and put him to death. Again, to touch the person of a chief is tabu to his inferiors; also, to touch anything belong ing to him, to eat in his presence, to eat anything he has touched, or to mention his name. And a chief's threshold is as sacred as that of a temple, and must be passed over in the same manner. It is strictly tabu to touch a dead chief or anything which belonged to him, or any of the clothes or utensils employed in his interment ; even those employed in laying out the body pay the penalty of infringing this prohibition. The interdict upon family intercourse varies in extent in different places. In the Tonga islands it was tabu to mention the name of father, mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law; also to touch these relatives, to eat in their presence (unless with the back turned, when constructively the person was not in their presence), or to eat anything which they had touched. In the Fiji islands, generally, it is tabu for brother and sister, first cousins, father-in-law and son-in law, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law, to speak together, or to eat from the same dish. Husband and wife, too, are forbidden to eat from the same dish. In some places a father may not speak to his son after he has passed his 15th year. In an immense number of cases, equally extra ordinary, the tabu is used to enforce the prevailing ideas of social propriety. It inter feres with cooking, eating, dressing, speaking; scarcely anything is too minute to be tegulated by it.