Volume 60 1951 > Volume 60, No. 2 + 3 > Notes on some Tikopia ornaments, by Raymond Firth, p 130-133
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OBJECTS used for personal adornment in Tikopia fall into two main categories: those manufactured for permanent use, and those culled from the vegetation, for temporary decoration. I give here a few notes on the former, from my records of 1928-29, with illustrations from my specimens in the collection of the Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney. 1

The principal types considered are: bead-string; “spool” or “reel”; plaque; pendant; ring. These include nearly all the Tikopia ornaments noted.

Traditionally, beads were made of two kinds of material, supe (Conus) shell and fangongo (coconut) shell. Both kinds are known generically as somo. Of the shell beads, however, two kinds are distinguished: those of small diameter, about 1/5 in., known as viki somo (little beads); and those of large diameter, about 1/3 in., known as korokoro (Plate 1). Both kinds are usually white, though occasional pink beads may appear according to the colour of the shell. There is no distinction of value attaching to pink shell beads, as in the Central Solomon islands. In 1928, I saw no Conus shell beads being made in Tikopia, though some beads of coconut shell were still being produced there, and a fair quantity of these were said to be made in Anuta. Variations also occur in the size of coconut shell beads, but no special names are given to the different sizes. When I arrived at Tikopia, some European beads (somo fakapapalangi) were in evidence. I augmented the volume of these considerably, by giving them in exchange for ethnographical specimens, and for services. They were esteemed at about the same level as native beads (somo faka Tikopia). Considerable variation in colour preferences was shown by - 131 individuals. But as regards size, the beads of medium diameter were preferred to very large or very small ones. Beads are strung on hibiscus fibre cords several feet long, and are worn as necklaces, or wound closely in several turns round wrist or ankle.

Also to be classed as beads, though worth special consideration here because of their comparative interest for Polynesian ethnography, are the spool or reel-shaped ornaments shown in Plate 2. These are known to the Tikopia as rei—a name reminiscent of the Maori aurei, Futunan and Hawaiian lei, etc. They are usually made from clam shell (penu toki), as are those illustrated. Occasionally whale tooth ivory (nifo tafora) has been used. They are worn on a string round the neck, either alone, singly or in a group of two or three, or strung together with some other smaller beads. They were not very common when I was in Tikopia, and none appeared to be made at that time, though tradition had it that Pa Resiake, a noted Taumako leader of two generations ago, was responsible for the manufacture of one set that I saw. In view of the importation of certain other individual ornaments one cannot altogether exclude the possibility that these “reel” beads are relatively late in Tikopia culture. But the people themselves regard them as definitely local, whereas they specify dogs' teeth (Plate 1), for example, as foreign items. Most of these rei are heirlooms. I received those illustrated here from the Ariki Taumako and other men of rank, as valuable gifts.

The place of analogous “reels” in Maori culture has been discussed by A. Hamilton, E. Best, H. D. Skinner, G. Archey and others, and the whole question of their significance has been recently summarised very effectively against the Polynesian background by Roger Duff. 2 Part of the interest of the Tikopia specimens is in adding to the record of the distribution of this type of artifact, in the close resemblance they show in form to some of the Maori “reels,” and to the additional definite evidence they give of the use of the “reels” as ornaments hung round the neck.

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The plaque is a common form of ornament in Tikopia. That most often seen is the “China-plate” type made of giant clam shell (penu toki; Tridacna). The larger variety of these, measuring up to 6 in. in diameter, are called tavi, and are worn on the breast, being hung by a cord which is knotted and thrust doubled through a hole in the centre of the plaque (Plate 3). Good examples of these are highly prized and handed down as family heirlooms. An old specimen worn smooth at the edges, with a creamy white velvety surface and delicate markings, is a beautiful object. Unlike the similar breast ornaments of Santa Cruz, termed likewise ndavi, those of Tikopia have no turtle-shell “filigree” complement. A smaller variety of clam shell plaque, known as matanipara, and usually measuring only about 1-2 in. across, is worn on wrist or ankle. When on the former, it looks very like a wrist-watch at a distance. Sometimes matanipara are made from the gleaming opalescent shell of the greensnail (alili). A comparatively rare form of breast plaque is that made from pearl shell (tifa; Pinctada). This usually has the base ground off and is polished on the convex face. It is suspended with this face outward, from three holes bored near the top (Plate 3). I figure also an example of an “imitation tifa,” made from roughly dressed clam shell, and bored for suspension as with a clam shell. I have no information as to why the ornament was made, but understood it to have been used for decoration in dancing, in the ordinary way. One old tifa I acquired was stated to have been brought from Vanikoro by a chief of Tamua several generations before.

Pendants are usually of a conversion type, the shank of a bonito hook (pa atu) or the entire hook with barb being hung from the neck. 3 The shank is ordinarily of clam shell, but occasionally whale ivory is used; the barb is always of turtle shell. An unusual form of neck pendant is illustrated in Plate 4. This is part of a whale tooth, bored for suspension. A strip of pandanus leaf had been fairly newly tied to the pendant when I acquired it, in lieu of the more regular cord of hibiscus fibre or coconut sinnet.

Another type of pendant is of ring form, though cut to allow of suspension. Ear-rings (ngasane) are made from

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turtle shell, by working it in hot water. 4 Sometimes such rings are worn attached to the septum of the nose. Rings thus made by the Tikopia are of plain bent strip, without subsidiary decoration. 5 But occasionally earrings and nose rings have been imported from Vanikoro or Santa Cruz; these are of slightly different type, with rough serrations. One of them is illustrated in Plate 4. Another type of pendant ornament worn by young people of both sexes is a small white univalve shell, resembling a species of Nerida. It is termed foi tiu. It is attached to the septum of the nose by a small coconut ring, and is worn especially as a decoration when dancing. Theoretically a sign of virginity, it is in fact worn by any young person who has not yet been married.

True rings are of two kinds. One is the finger ring sometimes cut out by young people from coconut shell, and worn as people wear rings in Europe. Such a ring is regarded as of slight value, because it is so easily made and broken. More important is the arm ring (kalikau). This is ground down from Trochus shell, and is regarded as important enough to constitute a recognized item in the series of ceremonial exchanges at funerals. A normal equivalent for such a pair of rings is a basket of food or some fish-hooks. One day I noticed a basket of food being carried from Ravenga over to Faea, on the other side of the island. On inquiry it turned out to be sent by a young man in exchange for a pair of arm rings manufactured for him to wear at a dance.

1   I am indebted to Professor A. P. Elkin, head of the department, for kindly having the photographs taken for me, and generally to the Australian National Research Council, under whose auspices my expedition to Tikopia was undertaken.
2   e.g., A. Hamilton, Maori Art, 1900, 406; E. Best, The Maori, 1924, II, 543; G. Archey, J.P.S., 36.73, 1927; H. D. Skinner, J.P.S., 43.106-8, 1934; R. Duff, The Moa-Hunter Period of Maori Culture, 1950, 79-102.
3   An illustration of the wearing of a bonito hook in this way is given in Plate XXV of my book, We, The Tikopia, London, 1936.
4   See We, The Tikopia, 38, for an example of conversion of European composition toothbrush handles into earrings by a similar technique.
5   For illustrations of Tikopia wearing earrings and beads see We, The Tikopia, Pl. II B and VII.