This massive feast bowl, known as an umete, comes from Atiu, one of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific.
Atiu, Cook Islands, South Pacific
Tamanu wood (Calophyllum inophyllum)
Height 91cm, length 366cm, width 97cm
Princess Titaua of Tahiti
Purchased from Titaua's second husband, George Darsie
Grand Gallery, Level 1, National Museum of Scotland
Did you know?
Titaua adapted well to life in Scotland, and she and George Darsie had three children. She died in 1898 and is buried in Anstruther Easter Churchyard.
Feasting played an important role in traditional Cook Islands’ culture, with food being a measure of prosperity. Offerings were made to the gods to ensure success in daily activities such as fishing or the planting of crops. Neglect of ritual duties could cause imbalance in the natural world, whereas abundance indicated that all was well. At feasts, the blessings of the gods were both being sought and being praised. The more lavish the feast, the more honoured the gods.
Cook Islanders are expert wood-carvers. The boat-shaped bowl is carved from a single piece of tamanu wood, also known as island mahogany. Tamanu trees have special significance and people are often buried in places where they grow. Although functional objects like this feast bowl are often undecorated, its immense scale would have emphasised the status of its owner.
In 1871, Parua, the high chief of Atiu, gifted this bowl to a chieftainess of the neighbouring Society Islands and it was transported there by canoe across a distance of over 500 miles.
The bowl was inherited by the Tahitian princess, Titaua, whose second husband was a Scottish businessman, George Darsie. Together they ran a plantation trade and labour business. In 1892, they retired to Darsie’s hometown of Anstruther, taking the feast bowl with them.
In 1895 Darsie sold a number of objects to the Museum, including the bowl, as well as Polynesian jewellery, tools and a chief’s headdress.
The feast bowl stands in the Grand Gallery at National Museum of Scotland, along with other key objects from our collection, as a reminder of the links Scotland shares with the rest of the world.