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March 2003

For a Man-size Appetite

For centuries in the Fiji Islands, tribal officials would bring out their best utensils for special people, not to serve them, but to eat them. The tribal officials were cannibals, and the special people were the meal.

The cannibal fork, or iculanibokola, was used by attendants during ritual feasts to feed individuals considered too holy to touch food. The influence of Christianity ended cannibalism in Fiji by the close of the 19th century, but Western fascination with the grisly practice continued. In the late 1880s tourist demand sparked a brisk trade in counterfeit cannibal forks that continues today. Our records don't say if this photograph, acquired by the Society in 1917, is of the real thing or not. It has never before been published in the Geographic.
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Photograph by Robert A. Bachmann