850

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Whale’s Tooth Tabua with Sinnet Cord

Fiji
late 19th century

length of tooth: 10.5cm

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Provenance

UK private collection

This tooth, most probably sperm whale ivory, is pierced with holes at both ends to allow the attachment of a sinnet cord, allowing the tooth to be worn from the neck. Single whale teeth such as this example were called tabua (pronounced ‘tambua’) and were used as presentation items at weddings, funerals and other important events in Fiji.

Originally tabua were acquired by chiefs from European traders in the nineteenth century and became important for dynastic exchange by which chiefs could increase their power and influence.

References

Hooper, S., Pacific Encounters: Art & Divinity in Polynesia 1760-1860, The British Museum Press, 2006.

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