With Halloween just around the corner, it’s the perfect time to share some of the Sooke Region Museum’s oddball artifacts that may or may not make your stomach turn.
The origins of Halloween (or All Hallows’ Eve) come from an ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain (sah-win), which was a celebration of the end of the harvest season. This festival was also used as an opportunity to prepare for the winter. It was believed that Samhain was when the boundaries between the worlds of the living and dead overlapped, allowing ghosts of the dead to wreak havoc on earth. Masks or costumes were often worn to mimic or appease these spirits. Interestingly, it is thought that the presence of these spirits made it easier for Druids (Celtic Priests) to make predictions about the future.
Samhain was established in the land now known as Ireland, and in the late 1800s Irish immigrants helped popularize the celebration of Halloween in America. By the early 1900s, Halloween became an established North American tradition that includes trick or treating, costume parties and other entertainment.
To begin we are looking at an object that would appear, at first glance, to be a regular cast iron pot sans a lid. However, what’s inside might give you goosebumps. Inside this pot is an unknown type of oil that has hardened into a tar-like substance with an embalmed mouse on the surface. This pot is amongst the first collection ever donated to the museum in 1974 and was found on the Phillips farm in Sooke. The pot was most likely used for discarded engine oil. The mouse probably met its fate when it climbed in and couldn’t get out. The rodent truly looks frozen in time as its fur and body are completely preserved.
From the same 1974 donation is a common farming instrument that makes many animal lovers feel uneasy. This device is an animal skin stretching board. This donation included three stretching boards. While the design of a stretching board can vary, ours are handmade using a rough fir lumber and resemble the appearance of a tapered ironing board. One board has remnants of what looks like green paint. Stretching boards are an efficient way to dry and preserve animal hides in a clean and tidy manner. After an animal is skinned, the hide is pinned to a stretching board to dry out. Once one side of the hide is dry to the touch, it can be turned over. When both sides are completely dry, the hide can be tanned and utilized.
This next artifact is not for the faint of heart, but may be appreciated by the fans of AMC’s the Walking Dead. Within our collection is a cannibal’s fork. This three-pronged, hand carved, wooden fork was obtained in Fiji by the donor and donated to us in July of 1989. Cannibal forks, also called Ai Cula Ni Bokola, originated in Fiji and represent the power of a tribal chief. It was taboo for human flesh to touch the lips of a chief (a descendant of a deity), so he was carefully fed by an attendant during cannibalistic feasts. The prongs are present so that the flesh and muscle could be twirled around the utensil. A knife or spoon was not needed. There are many assumptions as to why someone would eat human flesh, but perhaps the most popular explanation is that it was a way to punish and humiliate one’s enemy. The donor was believed to be in Fiji around 1940 when he got this fork from another museum there. It is unclear if this object was purchased or given to the donor, thus it is not known if it was ever used for acts of cannibalism. Nonetheless, reproduced variations of cannibal forks are a popular Fijian souvenir. While this fork has no Sooke related history, it is quite a unique artifact to have in our collection. Beware: if you’re ever at a dinner party where the utensils look like this fork, you might want to think twice about eating the entrée.
Collections and Exhibits
Sooke Region Museum