Shell Boars Tusk Shaped Ornament Papuan Gulf Area Papua New Guinea
Personal Ornaments in New Guinea and the Pacific Islands are some of the most beautiful objects made by the indigenous people of the Pacific Islands. Ornaments made from shells or animal teeth are not only decorations to wear but they are part of the traditional wealth and currency used by native people. They are used to pay for bridal dowries by a young mans family or as compensation for different types of disputes like over land for gardens or used in traditional ceremonies where giving wealth to others creates future obligations or debts. Pigs are one of the most important types of traditional wealth throughout New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. Its no wonder that ornaments made from Boars Tusks and Pigs Teeth are an important type of traditional wealth.
The superb old Necklace is made from Shell in the form of a full circle boars tusk, normally a Boars Tusk is worn as a pendant but in this case the artist decided to make a ornament in the shape of a Boars Tusk, there is also old grass trade beads sewn at the top of the ornament. A full Circle Boars Tusk is a rare and valuable object in New Guinea and even more so in Vanuatu where they knock out the back molars of the Pig to allow the tusk to grow into a full circle. This necklaces dates from the 19th Century and it would have been an important prestige wealth object.
In 1985- 1986 I made several trips to Papua New Guinea and at that time personal ornaments seemed to be readily available but when I went back in 1990-1991 all these types of shell ornaments seemed much harder to find. People said “our grandparents are gone and no one is making these any longer”
Attached are a few of my field photos showing people wearing their traditional wealth ornaments.
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