Marine: November 2007 Archives
As a Word-of-the-Day email subscriber, I relish the exploration of language that increases my vocabulary. I am fascinated by etymology, especially the words that derive not from another language's roots--like "panjandrum," a word for an important person or pretentious official, coined in the 18th century in a piece of nonsense writing. So when I began researching the Hawaiian kapu ("forbidden") system that prevents overfishing, I was surprised to learn that Captain James Cook had brought the Tongan and Fijian word tabu back to England, which became our word--taboo. The Austronesian language family of Southeast Asia and the Pacific reveals related words for "forbidden"--tapu in New Zealand and Tahiti and kapu in Hawai'i.
Growing up with a Hawaiian-Chinese father, I was accustomed to seeing KAPU written on his dried aku (tuna) and tako (octopus sashimi), but further investigation of the kapu/tabu system reveals an ancient method of conserving natural ocean resources. At Seacology we ask islanders to establish and manage terrestrial or marine reserves, and the tabu system reveals why this approach to conservation respects islanders' traditions. The traditional tabu system outlined fishing limits to prevent depleting marine life (in addition to restrictions on eating, a chief's rights and privileges, etc). Seacology's no-take reserves respect this ancient tradition, preventing overfishing and protecting all marine life.