- Date: 1777
Common etymology traces taboo to the Tongan word tapu or the Fijian word tabu meaning "under prohibition", "not allowed", or "forbidden". In its current use in Tonga, the word tapu also means "sacred" or "holy", often in the sense of being restricted or protected by custom or law. In the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga, where the greater portion of the population reside within the capital Nuku'alofa, the word is often appended to the end of "Tonga", making the word "Tongatapu", where local use it as "Sacred South" rather than "forbidden south".
The use of taboo in English dates back to 1777 when English explorer, Captain James Cook, visited Tonga. Describing the cultural practices of the Tongans, he wrote:
Not one of them would sit down, or eat a bit of any thing.... On expressing my surprise at this, they were all taboo, as they said; which word has a very comprehensive meaning; but, in general, signifies that a thing is forbidden and when any thing is forbidden to be eaten, or made use of, they say, that it is taboo
- 1 : forbidden to profane use or contact because of what are held to be dangerous supernatural powers
- 2 a : banned on grounds of morality or taste <the subject is taboo>
- b : banned as constituting a risk <the area beyond is taboo, still alive with explosives — Robert Leckie>
A taboo is a strong social prohibition (or ban) relating to any area of human activity or social custom that is sacred and forbidden based on moral judgment and sometimes even religious beliefs. Breaking the taboo is usually considered objectionable or abhorrent by society. The term comes from the Tongan language, and appears in many Polynesian cultures. In those cultures, a tabu (or tapu or kapu) often has specific religious associations. When an activity or custom is taboo, it is forbidden and interdictions are implemented concerning it, such as the ground set apart as a sanctuary for criminals. Some taboo activities or customs are prohibited under law and transgressions may lead to severe penalties. Other taboos result in embarrassment, shame, and rudeness. Although critics and/or dissenters may oppose taboos, they are put into place to avoid disrespect to any given authority, be it legal, moral and/or religious. An example of use in this context is: Incest is taboo.