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OCEANIC ART FROM THE ESTATE OF LYNDA CUNNINGHAM

Flesh Fork, Fiji
Estimate
3,0005,000
LOT SOLD. 16,250 USD
JUMP TO LOT
49

OCEANIC ART FROM THE ESTATE OF LYNDA CUNNINGHAM

Flesh Fork, Fiji
Estimate
3,0005,000
LOT SOLD. 16,250 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

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New York

Flesh Fork, Fiji

Provenance

James Hooper, Arundel
Christie’s, London, Melanesian and Polynesian Art from the James Hooper Collection, June 19, 1979, lot 127
Lynda Cunningham, New York, acquired at the above auction

Literature

Steven Phelps, Art and Artefacts of the Pacific, Africa and the Americas: the James Hooper Collection, London, 1976, p. 188, pl. 101, no. 788

Catalogue Note

Few objects draw such macabre fascination as the flesh forks of Fiji, which have long had the popular name of 'cannibal forks' due to the mistaken notion that human flesh was so special that none dared touch it with their fingers. Whilst cannibalism was practiced in Fiji, the notoriety of these objects owes a good deal to Victorian sensationalism and the European fascination with anthropophagy which, as Von Hügel notes, Fijians would occasionally encourage: 'if "interviewed" by anyone whom they think to be "younghand" enough to believe them, they do not object to invent ghastly stories of any strength or length.' (Roth and Hooper, eds., the Fiji Journals of Baron Anatole Von Hügel, 1875-1877, 1990, p. 198).

In fact, 'flesh from a human victim (known metaphorically as a puaka balavu or vonu balavu, "long pig" or "long turtle") was no more ritually problematic than pork or turtle meat […]' (Hooper, Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific, 2016, p. 246) and as John W. Dyes commented in 1840, 'they people treated it as simple if tha had been eating poltrey.' (Clunie, Yalo i Viti: a Fiji Museum Catalogue, 1986, p. 190).

Reiterating the point made by A. M. Hocart, Clunie has demonstrated that the use of flesh forks depended not on the supposed sanctity of the flesh of a vanquished enemy (the opposite being the case), but arose rather because the hands and lips of high chiefs and priests were tabu, or consecrated. 'The women or attendants who normally fed them being banned from the spirithouse, they fed themselves during cannibal feasts, using special wooden forks […] which were in turn consecrated through contact with chiefly and priestly fingers, and kept as sacred relics in the spirithouse.' (Clunie, ibid., p. 120).

The present fork is of exceptional size and has a dark, glossy patina from oiling and polishing. It retains part of its fine twisted fiber suspension cord. See Sotheby's, Paris, September 30, 2002, lot 62, for another large flesh fork from the collection of James Hooper.

Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas

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New York