This massive feast bowl, known as an umete, comes from Atiu, one of the Cook Islands in the South Pacific.

Feast bowl fact file

Date

Pre 1870s

Made in

Atiu, Cook Islands, South Pacific

Made from

Tamanu wood (Calophyllum inophyllum)

Dimensions

Height 91cm, length 366cm, width 97cm

Belonged to

Princess Titaua of Tahiti

Acquired

Purchased from Titaua's second husband, George Darsie

Museum reference

A.1895.359

On display

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 in the South Seas

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.

18th century feast bowl from Papua New Guinea

Above: This 18th century feast bowl from Papua New Guinea can be seen in the Facing the Sea gallery at the National Museum of Scotland.

How was the feast bowl made?

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.

The feast bowl’s journey to Scotland

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. 

Titaua Brander

Above: Princess Titaua, photographed in Tahiti in 1883. Before her marriage to George Darsie, Titaua was married to John Brander, a Scottish merchant who died leaving her a young widow.

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.  

This female figure is part of the collection sold to the Museum by George Darsie in 1895

Above: This female figure is part of the collection sold to the Museum by George Darsie in 1895.

Where is the feast bowl displayed?

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.

The feast bowl in the Grand Gallery

Above: The feast bowl in the Grand Gallery.

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