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Feature: Kapu
Posted by Devin on Wednesday, February 27, 2002 - 12:02 PM PST

Religion
Foreign words rarely translate well into English. Especially words that refer to things that aren't part of standard western culture. The word that comes to mind today is the Hawaiian word Kapu. The closest word in english to Kapu is taboo. But it's not the same thing at all. Taboos are meant to be tested and have their limits pushed. Kapu is not. (There is no plural of Kapu by the way). When something is Kapu, it's something that you just don't do. Ever. Period. Good examples of things that are Kapu are throwing darts into the air to see how high you can throw them, or pissing on an electric fence. The connotations are usually a bit more religious, but the consequences are usually about the same. Something that invites (instant) karma is Kapu.

An example, for those of you that don't know - taking lava rocks off of a Hawaiian island is Kapu. It's not illegal. It's not socially unacceptable. If you want to take a rock off of an island, put it in your bag. The big Hawaiian DOA person that searches your bag at the airport will see the rock and chuckle, but won't stop you from taking it if that's what you really want to do. When you get back to the mainland, and your world falls apart, your pets (or worse) start dying, your luck is beyond shit, and you start believing the quaint little story the nice old lady told you about how Pele doesn't like people taking her rocks, that's when you are starting to understand the meaning of Kapu. It's easy to fix, Just look up the zip code of a post office on the island you removed the rock from, and mail it to the Postmaster. For those of you who think this is voodoo mumbo jumbo, perhaps you need to climb up on one of the huge piles of rocks outside of most Hawaiian post offices (bet you wondered why those were there), and contimplate it from a different perspective.

Like most good Hawaiian words, Kapu has a bunch of related meanings. There are Kapu signs on some places. They're almost the equivalent of No Tresspassing signs, but not quite. No Tresspassing signs are usually one person's attempt to keep a group of people off of land that they consider to belong to them. Kapu signs (or their stone equivalents) are a group of people's attempt to keep an innocent person from inadvertantly tromping around land that belongs to the gods. It doesn't mean you can't go there. It means if you go there, go there with a purpose and show that you have respect, or don't go there at all. They're almost more like warning labels. They're usually placed near a Heiau (Hawaiian temple), or near burial grounds. North Americans have almost certainly heard stories about people messing with American Indian burial grounds. If these grounds were in Hawaii they would also be Kapu.

You seriously don't want to be pissing off hawaiian gods. The judeo-christain god dishes out fire and brimstone just once, on judgement day - but Pele regularly tosses melted rocks on people who piss her off. And far from being a vague future threat, you can actually go to places where this has happened and walk around on the cold brimstone, and wonder what stupid thing the poor dumb fucker under those rocks did to deserve all this. If I had to choose between crossing two fields, and one had a No Tresspassing sign, and one had a Kapu sign - there would be no contest. I'd much rather go to court than wake up swimming in lava.

Since english has no equivalent word, it's no suprise that most english speakers don't have a similar concept. Some spineless people have almost the same reaction to something that's Taboo as they should have to something that's Kapu, but it's different. It's ok to think about whether it really is wrong to have a few other people in your bed. Sometimes it can be very cathartic to talk about anal sex in front of your grandparents. But it is never ok to fling shmeng at a kid who hasn't flung any at you (even if the kid is 15 and annoys the crap out of you). It's never ok to try to lower someone else's self esteem to boost your own. It's never ok to try and make another person believe what you believe, simply for the purpose of validating your beliefs. These things would be Kapu. More along the lines of the second meaning, it's Kapu to go into someone else's world and fling shmeng at them. It doesn't matter whether that person is a god, or someone who's house you're staying in, or a webmaster. It's also worth noting that the gods (especially Pele) enjoy disguising themselves as regular people to see who respects kapu only when it relates to the gods. People usually have a very short and very unhappy life after running into a god this way and not passing that test.

Notice how the DOA guy searching your bag at the airport will just chuckle and smile at you when they find the rock? Notice how they don't try and make you believe in or even understand hawaiian gods, or try and instill fear to make you leave it behind? If they get a good vibe from you, and think you just don't know better, they might be curteous enuf to tell you that it's Kapu - and if you listen, maybe they'll tell you why - but if you don't want to know, they'll put the rock back in your bag (smiling at the irony), wave you through, and go on to check the next person.

Like all religious writing, this is all completely metaphorical, and those of you who can read both threads of this should be very amused. Those of you who can't, just enjoy the lesson on Kapu and don't worry about it.


Related links
· The Shmeng Cult
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Kapu | Login/Create an account | 18 Comments
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Re: Kapu
by ickgirl on Feb 27, 2002 - 01:02 PM
(User info | Send a Message) http://www.envy.nu/ickgirl
devin,
i love when you decide it's story time.

even if it you hold me captive for 8 hours and tell me one long story *wink*

and, it goes without saying - the full moon is goth as fuck.


Re: Kapu
by Ironboots on Feb 27, 2002 - 04:34 PM
(User info | Send a Message) http://ranger.vr9.com/Flash.html
That's pretty cool. Being a firm realist and all, I don't believe in it, but I still retain a good common sense: If people warn you, and you can stay away from it, don't tempt fate by doing it anyway.

The world could learn a lot from the Hawaiians.


Re: Kapu
by Rae (darkness_embraced1@yahoo.com)
on Feb 27, 2002 - 06:20 PM
(User info | Send a Message) http://darknessembraced.vibechild.com
Devin, this is truly one of the best parables I have heard since the sermon on the mount. :o)


Re: Kapu
by Shade on Feb 27, 2002 - 06:29 PM
(User info | Send a Message) http://www.hotelshade.com
Here in New Orleans and in other voodoo heavy places it's called 'Bad Mojo', roughly the same translation, but since it's not really an english term I guess it doesn't count


Re: Kapu
by jadedraven (smithsm@alfredstate.edu)
on Feb 27, 2002 - 08:29 PM
(User info | Send a Message)
This remind me a little of one if the witch laws (for lack of a better term due to exaustion right now) you know, whatever you do, be it for good or for harm, it will come back to you threefold" I like to simplify this into a line I heard from some movie, simply
karmas a bitch
before I am going to do something that would be considered "bad" (devin definition number 1 here) this annoying little voice in my head pipes up and says do what you want, but remember, karmas a bitch. Normally, it keep me out of trouble.


props Devin, for the wonderful story, it has been in my mind all night.


Re: Kapu
by gdlke (-)
on Feb 28, 2002 - 12:40 AM
(User info | Send a Message) http://gdlke.tripod.com
There is an english equivalent of what you described. But first let me say that i loved your little lesson.
The english word is "Mores" :1. The accepted traditional customs and usages of a particular social group.
While you are correct in saying that there is difficulty in the translation, I can still say that the concept is similar enough.
Keep up the good work.

Gdlke


  • Re: Kapu by callei on Feb 28, 2002 - 12:55 AM
Re: Kapu
by callei (plyn@plynlymon.com)
on Feb 28, 2002 - 09:36 AM
(User info | Send a Message) http://www.plynlymon.com
This adds a whole new dimension to throwing stones at someone.


Linquistics 101.
by Dolorosa on Mar 01, 2002 - 05:03 AM
(User info | Send a Message)
Neat...now I know a grand total of TWO Hawaiian words...Kapu, and Haole...haole haole haole...I love the silly way that word sounds...right before some giant samoan guy hits you in the head with the smaller japanese guy.
You know, it's easier to grasp what your talking about when you've actually gone out and well...grasped it. My advice! Everybody leave America for awhile and go visitin' the world...then build up massive bad Karma, burn it off at a shinto wish shrine, hide in a tibetan monastary...and uh...where was I? Hrm...
Yay!


Re: Kapu
by KittyGoesMrow on Sep 15, 2003 - 09:11 AM
(User info | Send a Message) http://
inuwindow?
(i think thats how its spelled? :\ )


Re: Kapu
by Anya on Dec 07, 2003 - 10:46 PM
(User info | Send a Message) http://kirashi.envy.nu
Hehe, that's an interesting term and since it's -almost- like taboo, it'll be easy to remember.


Re: Kapu
by KittyGoesMrow on Jul 03, 2004 - 02:26 AM
(User info | Send a Message) http://www.freewebs.com/animosity_photography
I wont be 15 for much longer! :P


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