kali wooden headrest & spirit protector

Contributed by RAMM Exeter

kali wooden headrest & spirit protector

How do you protect your elaborate hairstyle when lying down?

This Tongan headrest was given to Captain Cook on one of his voyages to the Pacific Islands and dates to the late 18th century, an age of great enlightenment. Cook was a great advocate of enlightenment believing that knowledge obtained from new discoveries would eventually create a better world.

Despite having a practical function a kali also had a ceremonial and spiritual purpose. Pacific Islanders believed that a person's spirit, life-force or mana resided in their head and that this mustn't touch the ground. The headrest also protected elaborate hairstyles from being damaged. Nowadays, kali are more often seen at weddings and funerals than in daily use.

Kali are masterfully shaped from a single piece of hardwood without any joints and were traditionally made by canoe-builders. They vary in size, shape and form and are not always symmetrical. This example in RAMM's collection is particularly unusual in that it has two legs at one end and just one at the other.

Originally this kali was believed to be a stool and it was many years before its real purpose was understood.

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Comments

  • 7 comments
  • 1. At 21:37 on 21 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    It looks like it has a tail on one end and arms on the other. The tail end says dolphin. The other end are its paws.

    (Alan, local historian in Exwick History Group, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 2. At 21:38 on 21 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    We think it's anthropomorphic with the toes turned in. The stylised head and someone doing a back bend.

    (Richard from Exeter, Margaret Hammond, painter & Caroline, potter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 3. At 21:39 on 21 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    It reminds me of Dom Joly with his huge telephone! It feels nice to hold, nice in the hand.

    (Anne-Flore Laloe, historical geographer and French interpreter, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 4. At 21:39 on 21 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    It looks so uncomfortable. Unless it was underneath loads of pillows.

    (Anil Lee, moved to Exeter from Istanbul in 1988, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 5. At 21:40 on 21 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    Up until 50 years ago people were using them in the South Pacific. Maybe they used bark cloth as a pillow or buffer.

    (Tony Eccles, RAMM Curator of Ethnography, in a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 6. At 21:42 on 21 July 2010, RAMM Exeter wrote:

    Caroline, potter: How did it end up here?

    Tony Eccles, RAMM Curator of Ethnography: It was acquired by James Cook. Sir Ashton Lever built up an amateur collection of objects in his house. He became friends with Cook. Sir Ashton was a lover of horses and gambling. He was advised to move his museum to London. He asked for help from the government but got none. So he held a lottery. A doctor then obtained the collection. Items were then sold off. A man called Vaughan bought this and donated it to RAMM in the 19th century. The item was made in the 18th century. People are interested in it as it is associated with Captain Cook.

    (In a Moving Here session organised by RAMM Exeter)

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  • 7. At 08:52 on 14 February 2011, islandbaygardener wrote:

    Here's a kali with tapa cloth on it... http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/objectdetails.aspx?oid=96518

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