By Fergus Clunie, former curator of the Fiji Museum in Suva.
In pre-Christian Fiji, food was normally taken by hand. However, skewers, forks, or folded-leaf claspers were used by priests and chiefs when consuming food offerings on behalf of a kalou, or deified ancestor spirit, and by those who had touched spiritually charged chiefs, corpses, or sacred objects; warriors who had slain enemies and secured their bodies for sacrifice; men tending circumcised boys undergoing transition to manhood; and others tangibly involved with death, spiritual transfer, and ritual rebirth. The utensils were necessary because the bodily contact with ancestral spirits that these activities entailed meant their users were ligatabutabu—forbidden to touch food—for a set period. This generally lasted for four nights, the usual time required for a body to literally give up the ghost.
Except in the case of priests and chiefs regularly involved in such rites, the forks and wooden or bamboo skewers used in such circumstances for standard food-stuffs mostly seem to have been made for the occasion then disposed of. Little is known of them and few are recognized in collections. The outstanding exception is a class of fork that not only tended to be individually named and treasured, but was sometimes even dedicated to ongoing usage against specific lineages. Outsiders were told this was an i culanibakola or i saganibakola: a fork used in the context of human sacrifice (bakola meaning an enemy destined for sacrifice and consumption). These “cannibal forks” were principally used in highland, northern, and western Vitilevu, where they were known as bulutoko.