The Art of eating
Rites and traditions
At a time of ever-increasing industrialisation of food production and the globalisation of fast foods, many people today still maintain traditions and rites that govern the preparation and consumption of foods – for themselves and for beings from the other world.
Christiane Falgayrettes-Leveau, directeur of the Musée Dapper
Anne van Cutsem-Vanderstraete, art historian
in collaboration with Gilles Bounoure, for Indonesia, Philippines and Océania
The theme of this exhibition and of the book published to accompany it seeks to highlight the knowledge, traditions and actions that are lived on a day-to-day basis and on special occasions, during ceremonies and rituals.* Solid and liquid foods, both in their original state and transformed, and the preparatory measures that accompany both their ingestion and the offerings made to ancestors, deities and spirits, are indissociably linked to specific objects. These are made of an array of materials and come in many different forms: while the jugs, pots and other recipients used to store cereals, milk, oil and water may have original shapes, more attention usually goes into making dishes, bowls, cups, spoons and ladles. The latter are destined to hold foodstuffs that will be shared among the many guests at marriages and other celebrations. Marriages represent alliances between different groups and call for gigantic feasts, which are in themselves a testimony to wealth and prestige. This is the case in the Admiralty Islands (Bismarck Archipelago, Melanesia), where huge dishes containing pieces of pork are served.
Wherever there is merrymaking, special drinks, such as palm wine and millet beer, are served. These are greatly appreciated in sub-Saharan Africa, both on ordinary days and within the framework of festivities, marriages, births, funerals, enthronements and the conclusions of initiations.
Starches are indispensable: as the basis of nourishment they are precious goods that must be guarded over. The high points of the year are festivals in honour of yams, millet, sorghum, taro and other plants, during which masks and statuettes are brought out to remind the populace of the special offerings that must be made at altars in order to ensure that agrarian cycles will take place under auspicious conditions. Among the Ifugao of the Philippines, rice – one of the most widely consumed cereals in the world – is protected by a statuette that is seen as the embodiment of a deity. On the African continent, in Dan (Ivory Coast and Liberia) villages, during important processions women throw rice into the air from large spoons.
To buy the good graces of creatures from the other world, villagers must feed them alcohol, cereal mush, and the blood of chickens, pigs, cows and dogs, slaughtered en masse for sacrifice. This food is spread over the ground and put on altars, some of which contain skilfully sculpted objects. Sometimes these vessels of communication with the other world are themselves receptacles, and offerings are placed in their sculpted orifices and in bowls held aloft, as in the Gabonese Fang byeri ritual figure, which is used in initiation and ancestor rites.
In several Oceanian cultures, human flesh was eaten, but only by the initiated and experienced. The privilege of incorporating the life force of another – an ancestor, a slave or an enemy – was reserved for particular people or groups. Anthropophagic rituals, organised at key moments in people's lives, were associated with a diverse array of objects. In the Solomon Islands (Melanesia), where headhunting was practised, warriors setting out on expeditions decorated the front of their long pirogues with figureheads representing protective spirits.
The musu musu often holds in his hands a small severed head.
* The cultural areas represented include sub-Saharan Africa, Oceania (Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia), Indonesia (Borneo and Sumatra) and the Philippines.
The Dinner of the Ghosts
Installations by the Franco-Beninese artist Julien Vignikin, whose work questions issues surrounding junk food and the access to food in the world, gives a contemporary dimension to the exhibition through his approach to one of society's major concerns.
15 Octobre 2014 - 12 Juillet 2015
The Dinner of the Ghosts
© Archives Musée Dapper - photo Olivier Gallaud.