(I had some trouble posting this. – promoted by Robyn)


–1777 (in Cook’s “A Voyage to the Pacific Ocean”), “consecrated, inviolable, forbidden, unclean or cursed,” explained in some English sources as being from Tongan (Polynesian language of the island of Tonga) ta-bu “sacred,” from ta “mark” + bu “especially.”  But this may be folk etymology, as linguists in the Pacific have reconstructed an irreducable Proto-Polynesian * tapu, from Proto-Oceanic * tabu “sacred, forbidden” (cf. Hawaiian kapu “taboo, prohibition, sacred, holy, consecrated;” Tahitian tapu “restriction, sacred;” Maori tapu “be under ritual restriction, prohibited”). The noun and verb are English innovations first recorded in Cook’s book.

Etymology online

The word itself (taboo) is used in more than one signification. It is sometimes used by a parent to his child, when in the exercise of parental authority he forbids it to perform a particular action. Anything opposed to the ordinary customs of the islands, although not expressly prohibited is said to be “taboo”.

–Herman Mellville, Typee

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.


We find many things to which the prohibition of them constitutes the only temptation.

–William Hazlitt

Some issues…indeed some people…are considered taboo only in a culturally-dependent way.  We like to think that Americans are so much more advanced than the lesser peoples of the world.  But it is often not the case.

On the issue of gender-variance, for instance, Americans lag so very far behind.

There have been some diaries touching on the Native American perspective:

Our Sister’s Keeper

She of Two Spirits

Spoons of Repression:  Killing the Isms

I got into this via some news involving the Samoan Prime Minister and we will get to that.  But in my research, I also discovered a documentary from a couple of years ago, probably from National Geographic originally.  It comes in five pieces, which are not terribly easy to separately categorize.  But I will try. 🙂

The Kathoey of Thailand:

The kathoey are male-to-female transpeople, also called ladyboys.

The term “kathoey” is not an exact equivalent of the modern Western trans woman, in that “kathoey” suggests that the person self-identifies as a type of male, unlike the term sao praphet song, which (like “trans woman”) suggests a female gender identity, or phet thi sam, which suggests a third gender. The term phu-ying praphet thi sorng, which can be translated as “woman of the second kind”, is also used to refer to kathoey.


The following part of the documentary is largely about Nong Tum.

To make our idea of morality center on forbidden acts is to defile the imagination and to introduce into our judgments of our fellow-men a secret element of gusto.

–Robert Louis Stevenson

The Fa’afafine of Samoa:

Fa’afafine are biological males who have a strong feminine gender orientation, which the Samoan parents recognize quite early in childhood, and then raise them as female children or rather ‘third gender’ children. They grow up as Fa’afafines, who are a gender category/identity altogether different from men and women, and so they have their distinct gender roles specific to them, different from both men and women. It is something which is not discouraged in the traditional fa’asamoa (Samoan society).


Whenever a taboo is broken, something good happens, something vitalizing. Taboos after all are only hangovers, the product of diseased minds, you might say, of fearsome people who hadn’t the courage to live and who under the guise of morality and religion have imposed these things upon us.

–Henry Miller

This is an unbelievable exploitation of indigenous people.  Stop making up crap about us and just ask us.  Margaret Mead made up some incredulous things about Samoan people, because Samoans did not respect her field of “anthropology”.  This idiot anthropologist did not realize that these Fa’afafine was making up a story to be interesting to her.  I am an advocate for transgender rights and lies like this documentary spreads only further supresses those rights. [sic]

–Comment attached to video, to be taken for what it is worth

Gender reassignment, American style:

The type of fig leaf which each culture employs to cover its social taboos offers a twofold description of its morality. It reveals that certain unacknowledged behavior exists and it suggests the form that such behavior takes.”

–Freda Adler


Freud also states here that the only two “universal” taboos are that of incest and patricide, which formed the eventual basis of modern society.

For Freud (1914), not only is the horror of incest and patricide at the root of a political theory, but it is the origin of religion.

So what was it that the Samoan prime minister said?

You are adamant that you are a special gender, That is why some of you have spent considerable money on special operations. Every year you all look very different. Blonde hair, glossy lipstick sporting Gucci handbags and us men continue to be taken in by your looks. It is only your thick muscular carves, bulked up after years of playing rugby, that give you away. But it is not your will that you are the way you are. You are just another shining example of the glorious miracles and creations of our Lord. I applaud you on your charity work in our communities and may you continue to pursue it. I also applaud you on your pursuit of your human rights and I encourage you to be vocal on any issue that touches, encroaches on your rights.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele, Samoa

Responses from transpeople have noted how sexist the statement was.


    • Robyn on July 9, 2011 at 00:01

    …in part a dose of basic background information.  Every so often, I have to acknowledge that there are people who have less knowledge than others.  It’s handy when I can do that with a mix of current news.

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