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The Tabu Tale

Rudyard Kipling

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    This short story was originally written to be included in Kipling's famous Just So Stories. It was not included, however, in the British edition, but apparently was in the 1903 US edition. My edition does not include it, but I was delighted to find it online. You may also read it online from the link above, or convert it into an eBook following the directions I have supplied, then read it on your device.
    In Just So Stories, we met the modern Neolithic family, Tegumai Bopsulai; his wife, Teshumai Tewindrow; and their spoiled daughter, Taffimai Metallumai, but we can call her "Taffy." The stories, "How the First Letter was Written" and "How the Alphabet was Made" came about from Taffy trying to be helpful in getting a message to her mother while she and her Daddy were out hunting, which turned into a bit of a mess, so they decided to create the alphabet to prevent any more mishaps. Taffy is quite a bright child and tries to be good, but she is also a bit of a brat. This story takes her to a new level of maturity, and makes her Daddy proud.
    The problem is, Taffy loves to go hunting with her Daddy, but she won't keep quiet, and she moves around too much and falls into swamps and out of trees, and pretty well scares off all the food they are trying to catch. Tegumai gets rather angry, in fact after she has run off every single animal they see, Daddy is ready to skin her alive, but he loves her too much. So they visit the Head Chief of the Tegumai Tribe.
    He, however, has something else to discuss, and that is that the tribe has been fishing too much in the Wagai river, and all the carp are disappearing, so he must place a tabu on carp fishing until they replenish themselves. Taffy wants to know about tabus, and since she and the Head Chief are special friends, he teaches her, and gives her her very own tabu necklace that she can use to keep people away from her own things, provided they are put away in their correct place.
    But by doing that, she also leaves the level of childhood, and enters into a level of more responsibility. Since she can place tabus on others, she can also be placed under tabus by others. And this includes her Daddy. And terrible things happen when tabu is broken. This is illustrated when Daddy picks up Taffy's water bucket upon which was her tabu necklace.

'Certainly,' said Tegumai, and he jumped up and lifted Taffy's bucket with the tabu-necklace on it. Next minute he fell down flat on the floor and shouted; then he curled himself up and rolled round the cave; then he stood up and flopped several times.

    So Taffy needs to release him from the tabu:

'My dear,' said Teshumai Tewindrow, 'it looks to me as if you had rather broken somebody's tabu somehow. Does it hurt?'
'Horribly,' said Tegumai. He took Three Sorrowful Steps and put his head on one side, and shouted, 'I broke tabu! I broke tabu! I broke tabu!'
'Taffy, dear, that must be your tabu,' said Teshumai Tewindrow. 'You'd better pull his hair three times, or he will have to go on shouting till evening; and you know what Daddy is like when he once begins.'

    So now Taffy understands tabus, and Daddy teaches her special ones for when they go hunting together, and hand signals that tell her not to move, and where there is a rabbit or deer or squirrel. Taffy learns quickly and takes her new responsibility very seriously, and it actually saves her life when a wolf begins to follow her. She doesn't see it, but her Daddy does, and because she stays very still, he and the Head Chief kill it.
    Everyone is very proud of Taffy, and her Daddy now takes her everywhere.
    Kipling wrote Just So Stories for his little daughter, Josephine, who tragically died at age six of pneumonia. The three "Taffy" stories are really about the love between a Daddy and his daughter, making them all the more poignant. The collection is one of his best known works, and if you read it, be sure to include this last story.

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