An island leader on Chile’s Easter Island gives a speech on April 27, 2019. Drawing on the traditional knowledge and language of “tapu”, in English “taboo”, proved crucial to the island effecting quarantine and ultimately attaining zero Covid. Photo: Shutterstock
An island leader on Chile’s Easter Island gives a speech on April 27, 2019. Drawing on the traditional knowledge and language of “tapu”, in English “taboo”, proved crucial to the island effecting quarantine and ultimately attaining zero Covid. Photo: Shutterstock
Lisa Lim
Opinion

Opinion

Language Matters by Lisa Lim

Taboo: how the word came to describe topics such as menstruation and race, and how it helped one tourist hotspot achieve zero Covid

  • The Tongan word ‘tabu’, meaning sacred or forbidden, gave birth to the English ‘taboo’, eventually becoming used to describe topics that were ‘off-limits’
  • In 2020, the mayor of Easter Island relied on the discourse of ‘tapu’ to manage islanders’ concerns over the effect of Covid-19 restrictions on their businesses

An island leader on Chile’s Easter Island gives a speech on April 27, 2019. Drawing on the traditional knowledge and language of “tapu”, in English “taboo”, proved crucial to the island effecting quarantine and ultimately attaining zero Covid. Photo: Shutterstock
An island leader on Chile’s Easter Island gives a speech on April 27, 2019. Drawing on the traditional knowledge and language of “tapu”, in English “taboo”, proved crucial to the island effecting quarantine and ultimately attaining zero Covid. Photo: Shutterstock
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