The Scandalous Tale of
A Tahitian Penu
By Jonathan Fogel
Lot 136, of Christie’s tribal art sale in
South Kensington on June 23, 1986, was a Tahitian
penu, or food pounder, that virtually any
museum or collector of Pacifi c art today would
be happy to possess (fi g. 1). Created of the black
basalt characteristic of the tiny island of Maupiti
(fi gs. 2 and 4) in the Society Islands, the penu
likely dates at least to the eighteenth century and
is a classic example of its type. The provenance
Probably one of Cook’s voyages
Admiral Lord Nelson
A brief narrative provides more context, speculative
From 1793 Horatio Nelson shared a house in London
with his good friend, Sir William Hamilton,
and his wife, the famous Emma. Hamilton was
in turn a close friend of Sir Joseph Banks, from
whom he acquired a number of artefacts from the
three voyages of Captain Cook (Bassani 1982).
FIG. 1 (above):
Maupiti/Tahiti, Society Islands.
Black basalt. H: 15.5 cm.
Ex Admiral Lord Nelson; probably collected during
one of Cook’s voyages.
Photo: Brian Carlson.
FIG. 2 (below):
Ambroise Tardieu (1788–1841),
Vue de la partie méridionale de l’Ile
Maupiti et du village d’Atipiti (Iles
de la Societe), 1826.
From L. I. Duperrey, Voyage autour du monde,
Paris: l’imprimerie de Remond, 1826.
Hand-colored copperplate engraving on paper.
Plate mark 23.5 x 32.2 cm.