Image: Kava bowl, Samoa E91440

Kava bowl, Samoa E91440

Local name: tanoa fai'ava

Provenance: Samoa, Polynesia, Pacific

This bowl was used to hold kava, a beverage made from the root and stems of the pepper bush. Kava is a universal medium of hospitality in many parts of the Pacific. It corresponds to tea, coffee or alcohol as a means by which hospitality can be extended to guests and forms the introduction to all ceremonies. The order of serving is definite: a senior visiting chief would get the first cup and the local chief the next; then it alternates between the two parties according to the order of precedence on each side.

This particular kava bowl has fourteen legs; the extra number of legs was supposed to distinguish Samoan kava bowls from those of Tonga and Fiji, but Samoans admit this to be a modern intervention. While such bowls are in common use, they are particularly made for tourists who are charged so much a leg. The method of incised carving of the rim and inlaying with lime seems to have also been stimulated by the tourist trade.

This object came to the Australian Museum in 1992 through the University of Sydney’s National Ethnographic Collection. The Pacific collection of this National Ethnographic Collection was donated to the Australian Museum, while the Indigenous Australian collection was tranferred to the National Museum of Australia. Between 1897 and 2000, the university has donated over 2,500 objects to the Museum.

 Description: Dark brown, wooden, circular carved shallow bowl; triangular, geometrical carved design on flat rim of bowl; fourteen straight short round legs with flattened front with same carved design; white lime pigment rubbed into carved design on legs.

Height: 9cm

Emma Furno
© Australian Museum

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