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    Superb Solomon Islands Pierced Shell Ear Plug (Ulawa)

    Solomon Islands
    early 20th century

    diameter: 4.8cm, depth: 0.8cm, weight: 19g



    from the estate collection of a former London museum curator

    – scroll down to see further images –

    This superb and relatively rare ear lobe ornament has been carved from clam shell. It is pierced and perforated all the way through with radiating lines and holes.

    Such ornaments were worn in the extended ear lobes of both men and women.

    They were variously called ulawa or eho.

    They were worn on Makira Island and on southern Mailata Island. Grulke (2022, p. 295) comments that ‘examples from various museum and private collections show a remarkable consistency of design.’ They were worn with a fibre string tied through the central hole which would fall beneath the chin and then be similarly attached to a similar ear plug in the other ear.

    The example here has obvious age. There are some minor use and age-related nibbles to the edge. Overall, it is a fine example with an unusual number of perforations.


    Grulke, W., Adorned by Nature: Adornment, Exchange & Myth in the South Seas, At One Communications, 2022.

    Howarth, C., Varilaku: Pacific Arts from the Solomon Islands, National Gallery of Australia, 2011.

    Hurst, N., Power and Prestige: The Arts of Island Melanesia and the Polynesian Outliers, Hurst Gallery, 1996.

    Neich, R., & F. Pereira, Pacific Jewelry and Adornment, University of Hawai’i Press, 2004.

    Waite, D. & K. Conru, Solomon Islands Art: The Conru Collection, 5 Continents, 2008.

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