Pounder – Tonga

Amongst the rarest objects from Polynesia is the Tongan tuki, or food pounder. These bulbous objects, mistaken by early collectors for Fijian throwing clubs, were used by Tongan women to grind breadfruit to make a pudding called faikakai. Faikakai is still eaten in Tonga today, but the reasons for which the tuki fell out of use after the eighteenth century are unknown.

Of the seven known examples listed in Adrienne Kaeppler’s Artificial Curiosities: Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook, six have eighteenth-century provenance and were collected and taken to Europe by Captain James Cook. They now reside in museums at Cambridge, Oxford, Wörlitz, Göttingen and Vienna.

The tuki presented here, which may have been collected on one of Captain Cook’s voyages, is possibly the finest known example. The patina evidences great age and extended use, the form is pure and elegant (the overtly phallic shape for an object reserved for women was no doubt intentional), and the rarity is unquestioned.

Tonga
18th century
Wood
H 10.75"
Ex Sir Thomas Berry Cusack-Smith; Sold by the executors of his daughter at Graffham Court House Sale, November 1988
#467
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