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Ornament Bena Bena area Eastern Highlands Province Papua New Guinea


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Collection No. T-1607
Size 53cm x 39cm
Ornament Bena Bena area Eastern Highlands Province Papua New Guinea
Ornament Bena Bena area Eastern Highlands Province Papua New Guinea
Ornament Bena Bena area Eastern Highlands Province Papua New Guinea

This fine woven and shell decorated pectoral ornament is from the Bena Bena area in The Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea

These ornaments are woven by women and given to young men after their initiation and are worn on the chest or sometimes on the back and even occasionally held in the teeth as shown in my field photo above.  They are worn in traditional dances and also worn in marriage ceremonies where they serve as part of a “bride price”.

These were valuable items for the Bena Bena people as the white cowries were a valuable currency which had been traded from the coast via the barter system between a number of tribal groups before finally arriving at the Highlands.

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 man’s family or as compensation for different types of disputes like overland for gardens or used in traditional ceremonies where giving wealth to others creates future obligations or debts.

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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