In Call It Courage, what does Mafatu realize once he sees the island has a sacred place?

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The author sets the scene by stating that Mafatu’s attention is caught by an old and hideous idol on top of a tall pyramid. The idol’s longevity is highlighted by its corrosion and the fact that it is covered in fungi and lichens. The author mentions that invasive weeds cover...

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The author sets the scene by stating that Mafatu’s attention is caught by an old and hideous idol on top of a tall pyramid. The idol’s longevity is highlighted by its corrosion and the fact that it is covered in fungi and lichens. The author mentions that invasive weeds cover the base of the idol. Due to the idol’s position, no wind can reach the base. As reality sinks in, Mafatu slowly realizes the truth about his location. He is at a marae—a sacred place. Struggling to breathe, he draws nearer to the base of the idol, where he finds piles of bones covering it. They are burnt and blackened. However, Mafatu can tell that the bones are not old and do not belong to dogs or pigs. Suddenly, Mafatu knows this is a motu tabu, a forbidden island, where men are sacrificed by the Varua Ino to eat.

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In Call It Courage, when Mafatu finds the marae, the Sacred Place, on the island, he knows that he has found a forbidden island, or motu tabu.

This realization can be found on p. 46 of the book. At this point, it is the first day that Mafatu has spent on the island and he is exploring. While exploring, he finds a long lava slide and decides to sled down it on a sled of leaves. At the bottom of the slide, he finds a trail that is too fine to have been “made by the feet of wild pigs (p. 46).” He walks along the trail and comes to the Sacred Place. Mafatu looks at the idol and then looks around its base. He sees burnt bones all over the platform. They are too large to be dog or pig bones so he realizes that they must be human bones. At this point (still on p. 46), we are told that

And then he understood. His heart congealed.  This was a motu tabu, a Forbidden Island.

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