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Poulaho, King of the Friendly Islands drinking Kava

Date: 1785
Overall: 500 x 383 mm, 80 g
Mount: 522 x 717 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00044267

User Terms

    This engraving is based on a watercolour and pen wash drawing by John Webber. It depicts the Tongan king Fatafei Poulaho at a kava ceremony. A man is kneeling down to touch his head against the King's foot. The British Admiralty appointed Webber as the artist onboard Captain James Cook's third expedition (1776-1780). Cook had passed through the central Pacific in May and June 1777 enroute to the North-West Pacific. It was during this voyage that he was killed at Hawaii in 1779.
    SignificanceThis engraving documents a moment in Cook's third voyage in June 1777 when he passed through the central Pacific on his way towards the Pacific North-West. During the voyage Cook was killed in Hawaii and these sketches provide an important pictorial record of the events leading up to his death in 1779.
    HistoryDuring the 18th century, Captain Cook's voyages contributed greatly to European knowledge of the Pacific and the published account of the expeditions proved to be extremely popular. This popularity was in part due to the many illustrations reproduced by the voyage artists - Alexander Buchan, Sydney Parkinson, Hermann Sporing, William Hodges and John Webber.

    Kava ceremonies are an important part in the religious, political and social culture of many Pacific peoples. The root of the Kava plant is crushed and processed with fresh coconut milk to become the focal ceremonial beverage. Cook's expedition account was the first depiction and description of a kava ceremony by Europeans. Webber shows the king (or Tu'i) of Tonga, Fatafei Poulaho seated during a kava ceremony. In the centre of the picture a man prostrates himself and touches Poulaho's foot with his head (a traditional sign of respect) while in the background men sit watching around a kava bowl. The scene refers to Cook's visit to the Tongan islands in May and June 1777 during his third Pacific voyage. The engraving originally appeared as plate 20 in the official account, 'Voyage to the Pacific Ocean' on the third voyage (Cook and King, 1784) however, this is a slightly later reproduction.
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