Kava Bowl in the Form of a Turtle (Darivonu), early 19th century
Wood; L. 22 in. (55.9 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1579)
The preparation and drinking of kava, a mildly narcotic beverage, are central elements of Fijian culture. Carved in the form of a turtle, which seems to glide effortlessly through the sea, this vessel was used to serve kava at communal ceremonies. The form of Fijian kava ceremonies and serving vessels appears to have changed significantly beginning in the late eighteenth century. Prior to this, kava was consumed primarily by religious specialists and initiated men from small shallow vessels, which were often figural in form, or from small, leaf-lined pits in the ground.
In the late 1700s, Tongans and Samoans, who originally arrived as warriors and later settled among the Fijians, introduced a more secular kava ritual in which groups sat around a large, round kava bowl. Likely created in the early 1800s as the two types of kava rituals began to merge and become a distinctively Fijian cultural institution, this work, which combines the figural imagery of early kava vessels with the larger scale of later kava bowls, represents the adaptation of an ancient form to a dynamic and evolving tradition, which continues today.