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Eating Customs in the Society Islands

Online Sources Published Sources
The Maohi peoples of the Society Islands assumed that their ancestral gods and roaming spirits could intervene and influence every aspect of their existence. To live harmoniously with gods and spirits, Moahi believed it was crucial to avoid hara, or spiritual pollution by observing a range of customs governing the consumption of food.

As eighteenth-century European voyagers quickly learnt, Moahi men and women not only ate out of sight of each other, but a woman would not eat food touched by a man unless she was of high social rank. Similarly, women other than the relatives of title-holders would not eat in any place where a high ranking man had set foot.

In the case of men who possessed the highest ranking titles, their proximity to the gods demanded that from birth they be routinely fed by another person. One such title-holder was encountered by Cook during his first stay on Tahiti. As Cook observed, ‘when he was helpt to Victuals and desired to eat he sat in the chair like a Stattute [sic] without once attempting to put one morsel to his mouth and would certainly have gone without his dinner if one of the Servants had not fed him…(Cook, Journal Entry for 1 May 1769).

A range of conventions were observed by women and men in regard to the feeding of children during the first years of life which are discussed at length by Douglas Oliver, in his Ancient Tahiti (1974: 420-3)

Maohi also regarded certain foods such as turtle as having such close connections to the gods that they could only be eaten by the highest-ranking men or priests. Other marine animals such as shark, albacore and dolphin were eaten only by men or high-ranking women.

Online Sources Published Sources
  • Cook, James, Online edition of the Holograph journal of the voyage of H.M.S. Endeavour during which Cook discovered Eastern Australia and circumnavigated New Zealand. National Library of Australia Manuscript 1, 2004, http://southseas.nla.gov.au/index_voyaging.html. [ Details ]

Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Created: 16 May 2004
Modified: 28 June 2004

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004

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