Shell disk ornaments overlaid with filigree turtleshell are typical of the Solomon Islands. (1) Commonly known as kapkaps, they were worn westward to New Ireland and on into the Papuan Gulf in PNG. (2)
Large Tridacna clamshells and other shells are used as a base. Other round shell ornaments made from white egg cowry (Ovula ovum) are worn as forehead or leg decoration.
Diving frigate birds are important because they show fishermen where schools of bonito (tuna) are. Frigate birds and hornbills dating from about 3000 b.p. are shown in petroglyphs in the Poha Valley cave near Honiara.
The Kwaio still grind the shell down on a stone. The design is cut with teeth or flint, then stained with black putty nut or ashes or dye from a tree berry. This one is incised with 2 frigate birds.
Other groups make similar kapkap jewelry. Sometimes a fish-headed sea spirit called Tararamanu from the Eastern Solomons is used. They are worn by women and given away at feasts.
The Kwaio still carve some palm wood combs using only a knife and the wing bone of a flying fox for tools. The wickerwork craft is called boré. Yellow is natural orchid vine, red dye comes from boiling vine in a bamboo container.
Another fiber ornament was a cane belt that is now outlawed. A warrior only wore one when he had been hired for a revenge killing. He couldn't take the belt off until he had killed the victim.
Various combinations of shell strings are used as ceremonial money as well as jewelry. Disks are restrung as needed. Teeth used are porpoise, dog, flying fox (fruit bat), possum and pig. Exchanges on Malaita required shell for shell, teeth for teeth. Early European traders manufactured and traded porcelain dog teeth and shell rings.
Porpoise teeth (about 300-400 teeth) were used along with dog teeth as part of bride price payments on Malaita and for burial ceremonies. The people in Lau Lagoon held porpoise drives to get teeth. Each porpoise has about 150 teeth. Different sizes were worth different amounts. It took ten large teeth to hire a big seagoing canoe.
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Artifacts on this site were collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. Background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do.
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