Tabu: A Story of the South Seas

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas, sometimes simply called Tabu, is a 1931 American silent film directed by F. W. Murnau. A docufiction, it is split into two chapters: The first, called "Paradise", depicts the lives of two lovers on a South Seas island until they are forced to escape the island when the girl is chosen as a holy maid to the gods. The second chapter, "Paradise Lost", depicts the couple's life on a colonised island and how they adapt to and are exploited by Western civilisation. The title comes from the Polynesian concept of tapu (spelled tabu in Tongan before 1943), from which is derived the English word "taboo".


Aged emissary Hitu arrives by Western sailing ship to the island of Bora Bora, a small island in the South Pacific, on an important mission. He bears a message from the chief of Fanuma to the chief of Bora Bora: a maiden sacred to their gods has died and Reri has been given the great honour of replacing her because of her royal blood and virtue. From this point on, she is tabu: "man must not touch her or cast upon her the eye of desire" upon penalty of death. This is painful news to Reri and the young man Matahi, who love each other. Matahi cannot bear it. That night, he sneaks her off the ship, and the couple escape the island by outrigger canoe.