The beautiful and the deadly
In the exhibition, you will see a stylised pātaka taonga, or storehouse of treasures.
It contains stunning adornments and deadly weapons from places such as New Zealand and Fiji. Only chiefs and others with mana (prestige and authority) owned the kinds of status symbols displayed here.
Artisans made impressive weapons from large whale bones and fashioned whale teeth into delicate ornaments. The rareness and beauty of these materials made the crafted objects even more precious.
Rei puta - prestigious pendant
Māori and several other Pacific cultures attach great value to pendants like this one. They are rare and would be a mark of the wearer’s prestige.
This rei puta is attributed to Ngapuhi and is made from whale ivory, probably a sperm whale tooth.
Ornaments made of whale bone are especially precious. They have been carved with great skill, and only nobility would have worn them.
The koropepe pendant is worn around the neck. Look closely – the spiral pattern is actually a coiled creature.
Hoeroa (whale bone staffs) could be owned only by rangatira (leaders). Debate surrounds their purpose. This one is said to have been a gift from a rangatira to Queen Victoria of Britain.
This short-handled weapon was used for close combat. The kotiate can be recognised by the two deep notches on either side of its broad, flat blade.
Fijian chiefs wore civavonovono (breastplates), yet it was Samoan and Tongan craftsmen living in Fiji who made them. These craftsmen employed the same techniques in breastplate construction as used in joining planks in canoes. The star decoration is a typical Tongan pattern.
The tabua (ceremonial whale tooth) is of supreme value in Fiji. This value cannot be measured in monetary terms – its worth is spiritual. Tabua may be given at weddings, births, or funerals. They add sincerity to an apology and can be a powerful seal to a relationship between individuals or groups.
Tabua are made from teeth from the lower jaw of the sperm whale. These whales very occasionally strand on Fijian shores. Tabua have also been imported from Tonga, a place that has a more abundant supply of sperm whale teeth.
The teeth are polished and sometimes rubbed with coconut oil and turmeric to darken them. They are often attached to a cord, but they are never worn.
Sisi and wāseisei whale teeth necklaces
The sisi and wāseisei necklaces are distinctive emblems of wealth and power in Fiji.
In the 1800s, such necklaces could be worn only by chiefs or other men of influence. The difficulty in obtaining the teeth and the skill required to carve them added to their value.
To make these necklaces, whale teeth have been painstakingly shaped into curves that taper to sharp points. A cord was then threaded through holes made at the base of the teeth.