A Superb Shell Pectoral Ornament New Britain Island Papua New Guinea
|Size||Shell Only 19cm x 21.5cm|
This Superb Shell Pectoral Ornament is from New Britain Island in the Bismark Archipelago of Papua New Guinea. The large gold lipped pearl shell was carved out on one side to give it a place to attach dangling ornaments nade of tiny shell money beads & ending in dogs’ teeth. This was not just an ornament to wear but an important type of traditional currency that was used to pay bridal for bridal dowries, land disputes, or given as a sign of respect during funerals of important clan leaders both men & women. This is the most beautiful example I have ever seen and I have kept it in my private collection for 38 years. It has a wide tree bark string woven band to be able to wear it over your neck. It is well displayed on a custom steel stand.
Dogs’ teeth were always an important type of traditional wealth all over New Guinea, they only kept the larger two canine front teeth when their dogs had died of natural causes. These beautifully shaped canine teeth were then pierced at the top for attaching to ornaments of many types. When the Germans were part of the Colonial history of New Guinea before WW1 they could see how important dogs’ teeth were to the native people and they cleverly had them made in Germany from porcelain in great quantities which they then used to pay the local people for working on their plantations. Old people in New Guinea still had some of these German porcelain dogs’ teeth but they said ” we never considered them to be the same value as the real dogs teeth”.
Most shell & teeth ornaments made in New Guinea were not only objects of great beauty but all a store of traditional wealth that families & clans kept & used and traded and received for generations.
In the Highlands of New Guinea shells were highly valued and where it took long periods of time for shells to make their way by trade routes from coastal people to the interior, each step of the way gaining more value. The Kina Shell is a good example, these beautiful crescent-shaped were so valuable that a single whole shell was considered an important object of wealth, they were often coated in red ochre, and sometimes where they were pierced for a necklace the holes were worn through and repaired again and again.