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Ceremonial Wooden Four-Tined ‘Cannibal’ Fork
early 19th century
This very fine Fijian ceremonial fork (cula ni bokola) is in excellent condition and has a superb, deep patina. It has four unusually fine tines, and a baluster-
form handle which finishes with a button-shaped finial. It is carved from a single piece of wood.
According to Kaeppler (2010, p. 225), such forks often are called cannibal forks because they were used by priests and chiefs to eat human flesh. But such
forks also were used by high-ranking individuals, who as living representations of gods, were not permitted to handle food. Attendants would feed such
individuals by carefully placing consecrated flesh into their mouths, and indeed any other food, not just human flesh.
Touching such forks was tabu to commoners. (The English term 'taboo' is derived from this Fijian expression). They were considered holy and were kept in the
spirit house or bure kalou. Each fork was individually named and was passed from generation to generation.
Similar examples in the Mark and Carolyn Blackburn collection are illustrated in Kaeppler (2010).
Judging from the fine patina of the example here, it would have been used by more than one generation of priest or high-ranking person.
Kaeppler, A. L., Polynesia: The Mark and Carolyn Blackburn Collection of Polynesian Art, University of Hawaii Press, 2010.
Wardwell, A., Island Ancestors: Oceanic Art from the Masco Collection, Detroit Institute of Arts, 1994.
UK art market (Martel Maides Auctions, Guernsey);
private collection, Guernsey.
Inventory no.: 1988
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