Old Dogs Teeth Headband, Ramu River Area, East Sepik Province, PNG
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.
Dogs Teeth are one of the most important types of traditional wealth used throughout New Guinea. Not just all dogs teeth but the four front canine teeth . The native dogs in New Guinea are similar to Australian Dingo’s they were brought by people from SE Asia long ago, some research said that dogs arrived in New Guinea 5000 years ago. Dogs teeth are used in many types of traditional ornaments from simple necklaces to complex arrangement like this fine old Head Ornament where the Dogs Teeth are sewn to stand in perfect neat rows. This fine old Headdress also has a edge of Nassa Shells that add to its beauty. You can see a woman wearing a similar headdress above in a photo I took in 1986.
When the Germans were in New Guinea before WW1 they saw how important Dogs Teeth were in the local economy and with foresight they had porcelain dogs teeth made in Dresden Germany and shipped them to New Guinea to pay native people for working on plantations. Those white porcelain dogs teeth can still be seen mixed in with real dogs teeth on ornaments from New Guinea.
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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