Click to Subscribe
Mauki the Tambo Man
A Discussion of Jack London's Characterization of Melanesian Tambos
© 2017 James LaFond
James, if you have read the story or have any response, I would love to hear it.
"He weighed one hundred and ten pounds.  His hair was kinky and negroid, and he was black.  He was peculiarly black.  He was neither blue-black nor purple-black, but plum-black.  His name was Mauki, and he was the son of a chief.  He had three tambos.  Tambo is Melanesian for taboo, and is first cousin to that Polynesian word.  Mauki's three tambos were as follows: first, he must never shake hands with a woman, nor have a woman's hand touch him or any of his personal belongings; secondly, he must never eat clams nor any food from a fire in which clams had been cooked; thirdly, he must never touch a crocodile, nor travel in a canoe that carried any part of a crocodile even if as large as a tooth."
This is the opening paragraph of the short story Mauki, by Jack London.  I first read this story probably over 15 years ago and the only thing that stayed with me was the introduction of the word tambo.  I have often thought of this story since I began reading your work and your recent entry for that word in your REH Lexicon finally motivated me to find the story in my long borrowed copy of The Collected Jack London (thanks Tom) (I am not one of those people, I have only ever stolen two borrowed books, this one and another one, also from Tom; thanks again, Tom).  
If the word wasn't enough to put this story in your sights, the title character is a woolly-haired, black twerp of a slave, albeit a Melanesian, not an African.  London describes the systematic and unsentimental nature of the mercantilistic exploitation of the human and material resources of the South Seas, and traces Mauki's lone defiance of it.  James, I found one of your former incarnations!  I recommend this short story, and the above named collection, which includes London's well known works, such as White Fang, and To Build a Fire.
Lynn, if I recall correctly Jack Donovan and his coauthor took a look at this story in their survey of masculine blood rites, Blood Brotherhood. [1]
Generally, a Taboo or Tambo, or, as Howard spelled it, a Tambu, imposes a certain discipline on a man and imparts a power as well. This is similar to the Native American Totemic bond between a realized vision seeker and his patron animal spirit. patron is not the correct term, but close and also, totemic imagery is universal in primitive masculine traditions. We simply have most of our experience—anthropologically speaking—with Native American cultures, which were uniquely accessible at the foundation of the systemic study of primitive humanity.
I am not versed on the Melanesian totemic system and do not know how faithful London is to it. However, Mauki seems to be a person who has defined himself as a tripartite agent. Where a modern American usually defines themselves according to ideology and material accumulation, most often in such a fashion as to deny their own agency, Mauki places himself in dire straights, in essence channeling his energy between the softening effects of female contact and the apex predator of his habitat, the Croc. The clam I take as symbolizing passivity, a thing to be avoided.
There are, of course, purely magical, superstitious aspects to placing taboos upon one's self. However, the process imparts discipline and a perspective in sync with the individual's psychology.
The Mind of Mescaline Franklin
The Awakening of a Paleface Ethnocist
‘My Daughter’
the man cave
'Enamored of the N-Word'
plantation america
on the overton railroad
masculine axis
the lesser angels of our nature
on combat
the fighting edge
night city
  Add a new comment below: