April 27, 2010

ICULANIBOKOLA-Fijian Canibal forks

I chose Fijian cannibal forks as my ‘non-western’ visual art.  These pieces are as far removed from modern western behavior as possible.  While we may consider it a touch gruesome, forks were pieces of great art and religious value for Fijian people.

The history of these forks dates back to a prehistoric group-the Lapita-that eventually founded the majority of pacific peoples.  Fiji was settled by early Lapita, then inundated with Malay peoples and finally Polynesian peoples.  These groups all have recent (well, recent is relative) history of cannibalism and is believed that the ancestral peoples of the pacific brought cannibalism with them as a cultural trait.   This is of course contested. To narrow down my narrative, Fijians partook in cannibalism until the very late 1800’s on a wide spread scale, and in smaller isolated incidents until the 1920’s.  American expeditions recorded active cannibalism on a tribal scale in the 1890’s.   It must be noted that many accounts were biased and falsified, but many accounts were very diligently recorded by relatively open people. Canibalism was also recorded in photography and these are on display in Suva, Fiji

Cannibalism was a religious ritual in which ones enemy was disgraced by being consumed, and his energy/power was transferred to the consumer.  If a victorious tribe was feeling rather hostile they would cook a victim and then fed him to the pigs or let him waste.  This was an even worse insult.

These forks arose for several reasons.  First is a cultural taboo that prohibits chiefs and priests from touching food with their hands. Common Fijians generally did not use utensils until Europeanization.  One of the most important ceremonies a chieftain participated in was the devouring of their or the tribes enemy.  Combining the significance of the event and the inability to use their hands the chiefs needed a way to participate-hence the development of the cannibal fork.  Forks became a way to show power and influence. The fancier more elaborate the fork, the higher status the owner had.  Combining social status, religion and warfare made production of these forks a royal undertaking.  Elaborate carvings from unique materials including human bone became the sole purpose of dedicated craftsmen.  

To make an analogy these forks were the equivalent of crowns, or thrones or in today’s world fancy sports cars and private jets.  

However gruesome we might perceive these items (considering how many are made and sold a year as tourist nick-nacks we can’t be that squeamish) they are very beautiful and have amazing detail that when compared to the production technologies of the time and place are outright marvelous.   Many of the European sculptures we have covered are not in this level of detail.  These forks show that humans will make art in whatever context and in anyplace.


2 Responses to “ICULANIBOKOLA-Canibal Forks”

  1. caitlincatrose Says: really picked something that just would not have occured to me as your non-western visual art. And may I say, I applaud you for it. I like how you gave the history of the forks but also inserted your voice into it. They are also quite beautiful. thank you for sharing!

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