Headdress of mother-of-pearl and tortoise shell, with cock's feathers, on a band of coconut fibre.

Place details: OCEANIA POLYNESIA. French Polynesia (Overseas Collectivity of France) / Marquesas Islands, Tahuata Island (St Christina) Vaitahu Bay (Resolution Bay). Local Name: uhikana [Ta'avaha ?] Materials: Coconut Fibre Plant / Bird Feather / Mother of Pearl Shell / Turtleshell Reptile / ?. Processes: Woven / Perforated / Bound / Overlay / ?. Colour: Black Dimensions: Max H = 420 mm Field Collector: Johann Reinhold Forster and George Forster When Collected: Between 8 and 12 April 1774 Other Owners: Johann Reinhold Forster and George Forster; from late January 1776, Ashmolean Museum PRM Source: Ashmolean Museum Acquired: Transferred 19 April 1886 Other Numbers: Forster 134; Duncan 179; [Ashmolean] AM1340

KEYWORD: Headdress / Headgear / CLASS: Ornament / Clothing Headgear / ?.

Object description: Headdress, uhikana. The band is made from coconut fibre; the ties are formed from plaited coconut fibre, while the central band is made from seven strands of coconut fibre bound with very finely plaited coconut fibre cord. Two pearlshell discs (uhi) are attached to the band directly using cord made from plant fibre threaded through two holes drilled in each shell. Discs of perforated turtle shell are attached to the pearlshell discs, tied with plant fibre through the centre of the shell to the headband below. In the centre of each turtle shell disc is a smaller circle of pearlshell, and a second disc of carved turtle shell, held by the same plant fibre tie. The design carved into the larger turtle shell discs is dominated by four ipu, or container, motifs that surround the central discs. The feathers have been bound into seven bundles, each consisting of between five and twelve feathers. The shafts of the feathers are bound to a strip of cane using relatively unprocessed plant material, and the cane has been lashed to the headband using plant fibre cord. This arrangement gives stability and rigidity to the feather bundles. [JU 22/04/2013]

Publications history, trails & websites: Illustrated in an engraving by John Record (after Charles Chapman) as figure 4, 'A head-dress', on plate XVII facing page 311 of A Voyage towards the South Pole and Round the World, performed in His Majesty's Ships the Resolution and Adventure, in the Years 1772, 1773, 1774, and 1775 (2 vols), by James Cook (London: W. Strahan and T. Cadell, 1777). NB This engraving has been reproduced a number of times. [JC 8 7 2005]

Listed as number 179 on page 184 of A Catalogue of the Ashmolean Museum Descriptive of the Zoological Specimens, Antiquities, Coins, and Miscellaneous Curiosities (Oxford, 1836): 'South Sea Islands, &c.... 179. Feather ornaments for the head. - Otaheite. (Reinhold Forster.' [JC 8 7 2005]

Listed in the Catalogue de la Section Ethnographique de l’Exposition Internationale Coloniale et d’Exportation Générale tenue à Amsterdam du 1 Mai au 31 Octobre 1883, by L. Serrurier (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1883): ‘Collection of objects from Captain Cook’s second voyage, exhibited by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. … 1. Large ornament of feathers, for the head, in the form of a diadem, coming from the Marquesas Islands. Two little plates of shell (mother-of-pearl worn by rubbing), and under these two a third, larger one, are fastened to the feathers. On these three plates is a rosette of tortoise shell [travaillee a jour – intricate, worked/openwork]. The design of the carving is reminiscent of the tattoos of the people of these islands. The work on this head dress is meticulous. It was used by an important chief (See Cook, Second Voyage, p. 17 and Wood, Uncivilised People, p. 410).' [Translated from the French by Adrienne Hopkins, 2002]. [JP 22/9/2004]

The true left pearlshell disc is illustrated in black and white in Abbildungen 155 on page 167 and in Abbildungen on page 218 of Plastik mit einer Einleitung über die 'Materielle Kultur' und einem Anhang 'Ethnographische Ergänzungen', Volume 2 of Die Marquesaner und ihre Kunst: Studien über die Entwicklung Primitiver Südseeornamentik nack Eigenen Reiseeergebnissen und dem Material der Museen, by Karl von den Steinen (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer (Ernst Vohsen), 1928). Also discussed on the same page. [JC 27 3 2015]

Listed according to the 'Forster list' numbering system in 'From the Islands of the South Seas 1773–4': An Exhibition of a Collection Made on Capn. Cook’s Second Voyage of Discovery by J. R. Forster—A Short Guide, by Peter Gathercole (Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, no date [1970]): '134. A headdress of mother of pearl & tortoise shell, with cock's feathers. "Their principle headdress, and what appears to be their chief ornament..." (Cook). The open work turtle-shell overlay is particularly fine. Band of coconut fibre. Length (exclusive of strings): 42 cm.' [JP, undated; JC 8 7 2005]

Listed as no. 97 in La Découverte de la Polynésie (unpaginated; Paris: Société des Amis du Musée de l'Homme, 1972): 'TA’AVAHA. Diadem. Length: 28 cm. Height: 48 cm. Forster Collection, Cook’s second voyage. The Polynesians take extreme pleasure in adorning themselves and, in general, the men are even more attentive than the women. This applies especially to the Marquesas Islands where, during festivals, the chiefs and renowned warriors were so overburdened with crowns, necklaces, pendants and other jewellery that they could hardly move. This diadem, topped with feathers and decorated with two discs of mother-of-pearl and tortoise shell, is the most beautiful of all the known specimens of this type. It took months or even years to do no more than collect the number of cock’s caudal feathers needed to make it. Mother-of-pearl is also very rare on the Marquesas and the openwork cutting of the thin plates of tortoise shell for the smallest discs, done only with the aid of scissors made of shark’s teeth, was a long and painstaking task. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, no. 134.' [Translated from the French by Adrienne Hopkins, 2002]. Reproduced in black and white, opposite catalogue entry. [JP 23/9/2002; JC 8 7 2005]

Listed as number 1 under ‘Cook Islands - The Marquesas Islands...Headdresses’ on page 165 of 'Artificial Curiosities': Being an Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook, R.N. at the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum, January 18, 1978 - August 31, 1978 on the Occasion of the Bicentennial of the European Discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by Captain Cook - January 18, 1778 (Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication 65), by Adrienne L. Kaeppler (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1978): '1. Headdress of fiber band, shells and feathers, Oxford (134). Length of band without ties (42 cm). Evidence: Forster collection. Depictions: Cook 1777, Plate 17 (Fig. 307). Literature: Gathercole, n.d. (1970), p. 20. [see above]'. [JP 24/7/2002; JC 8 7 2005]

Reproduced in black and white as figure 19 on page 38 of 'The Voyages and their Background', by Hugh Cobbe, in Cook's Voyages and Peoples of the Pacific, edited by Hugh Cobbe (London: British Museum Publications, for the Trustees of the British Museum and the British Library Board, 1979), pp. 13-46. [JC 29 12 1999]

Illustrated in black and white on page 89 of The Great Book of the Pacific, by Roselene Dousset and Etienne Taillemite (translated by Andrew Mouravieff-Apostol), (Secaucus, N.J.: Chartwell Books, 1979). Caption (same page) reads: 'This diadem of feathers, or ta'avaha, was brought back from the Marquesas Islands by Cook [sic] on his second journey (1772-1775). It is made of vegetable fibres decorated with strips of mother-of-pearl on which leaves of chiselled tortoiseshell are applied. Sylized tiki designs appear on the tortoise-shell discs.' [JC 30 3 2001]

Discussed on page 150 of 'Marquesan Art in the Early Contact Period, 1774–1821, by Carol Susan Ivory (Seattle: University of Washington, Ph.D. thesis, 1990). Ivory writes: 'The most spectacular example from the Cook expedition, and from the entire early contact period, is in the Pitt Rivers Museum ([Forster] 134, Fig. 77) from the Forster collection and is also depicted in the Cook artifact plate.... To the fiber band are attached two large pearl shell disks, onto which delicately perforated turtle shell disks, smaller white pearl shell disks, and a final turtle shell circlet are layered. Tall plumes of black cock's feathers rise above the head to band to complete the headress.' Also listed on page 402 of 'Appendix C Objects Collected 1774–1821, By Date Collected' and on page 405 of 'Appendix D Objects Collected 1774–1821, By Object Type'. Ivory also reproduces, as Figure 77 on page 318, a photograph of this object in the 'permanent' display on the PRM's lower gallery: 'Figure 77. Head ornament (uhikana), PITT 134.' [JC 14 3 2015]

Published as part of the Forster Collection on a dedicated website at < www.prm.ox.ac.uk/forster > (from February 2001). [JC 7 7 2005]

Referred to in note 10 on page 53 of 'William Hodges's Portrait of Honu', by E[ric] K[jellgren], in Adorning the World: Art of the Marquesas Islands, by Ericf Kjellgren with Carol J. Ivory (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art / New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005), pp. 50-53: 'A rare double uhikana collected by Forster, whose two disks also bear ipu motifs, is in the Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford...'. [JC 23 2 2006]

Listed as number 109 and illustrated in colour on page 158 of Pacific Encounters: Art & Divinity in Polynesia, 1760-1860, by Steven Hooper (London: British Museum Press / Wellington, New Zealand: Te Papa Press, 2006); caption (same page) reads: '109 Headdress | Marquesas Islands, Tahuata | Mid-/late eighteenth century | Feathers, pearl shell, turtle shell, coir, fibre | H. 42.0 cm | Oxford, PRM: 1886.1.1340 | Acquired 1886; ex. collection Ashmolean Museum; donated 1776 by Johann Reinhold and George Forster to Oxford University; collected April 1774 by the Forsters during Cook's second voyage.... This magnificent and finely preserved headdress is composed of two pearl-shell discs upon which are mounted two filigree discs of turtle shell. The whole is fixed to a headband of plaited coir, above which are two clumps of black cock tail feathers. This is almost certainly the example depicted in the publication of Cook's second voyage - the turtle-shell discs are identical.... As Cook only called at Tahuata, it must have been collected there.' NB This headdress is also illustrated in colour on the front and back covers of the New Zealand edition of the catalogue. Also illustrated in black and white on page 6 of Broadview: The Newsletter of the University of East Anglia (May 2006) where it illustrates an article about the Pacific Encounters exhibition (copy in RDF). Also listed and illustrated, with the same number on the same page and with the same details, in the French edition of the catalogue: Polynésie: Arts et Divinités, 1760-1860, by Steven Hooper (Paris: Musée de quai Branly and Réunion des musées nationaux, 2008). [JC 22 12 2006, 29 12 2006, 10 7 2008]

Illustrated as figure 97 on page 128 of The Pacific Arts of Polynesia & Micronesia (Oxford History of Art), by Adrienne L. Kaeppler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). Caption (same page) reads: 'Headdress of feathers, pearlshell, and turtleshell, Marquesas Islands (late eighteenth century). Collected during Cook's second Pacific voyage'. [JC 9 4 2008]

Illustrated (detail only) in colour as figure 15 on page 110 of 'Pacific Encounters: Polynesian Art at the Sainsbury Centre', by Julian Harding, in Tribal Art, Vol. 11, no. 1 (no. 42; Autumn 2006), pp. 104-117. Also discussed briefly on page 109: 'The wonderful head ornament illustrated in fig. 15 is made of feathers, pearl shell, turtleshell, and coir. Now in the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, it was collected in April 1774 and is in very good condition for an object of its age and fragility.' [JC 29 9 2008]

Listed as catalogue number 369 and illustrated in colour on page 217 of James Cook and the Exploration of the Pacific, by Adrienne l. Kaeppler et al. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2009): '369. Headdress uhikana / Tahuata, Marquesas, by April 1774 / Coconut fibre, mother-of-pearl, turtle shell, feathers; h 42 cm / Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford, 1886.1.1340 (Forster 134) / Two intricately carved discs of turtle shell mounted on pearl shells, which are in turn mounted on a band of coconut fibre along with bunches of black cock’s feathers. On Tuesday 12 April 1774 Cook wrote: ‘they wear as Ornaments a kind of Fillit curiously ornamented with Tortice and Mother of Pearl Shills, Feathers &c’ (Beaglehole 1961, p. 373). An engraving of this piece was reproduced in the official account of the second voyage (Cook 1777, pl. XVII, fig. 4). J[eremy]. C[oote].' [JC 22 9 2009]

Illustrated in colour on page 8 of La France d'Outre-mer: cycle 3 (Les Dossiers Hachette), by Eric Mesnard (Paris: Hachette Education, 2010). Caption (same page) reads: 'Coiffure îles Marquises faite de plumes, de nacre, d'écaille de tortue et de fibre de coco (Polynésie française, XVIIIe siècle'. (Copy of publication in Balfour Library.) [JC 7 3 2011, 9 8 2011]

Illustrated in colour as figure 98 on page 119 of 'Art and Culture in 18th and 19th-Century French Polynesia', by Carol S. Ivory, in Gauguin Polynesia, edited by Suzanne Greub (Munich: Hirmer; Basle: Arts Centre Basel, 2011), pp. 110-23. Caption (same page) reads: 'Marquesan 'ta'avaha', headdress with two 'uhikana' attached, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford'. (This catalogue was published to accompany the exhibition of the same name held at the NY Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, from 24 September to 31 December 2011, and at the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, WA, from 9 February to 29 April, 2012. NB The object was not loaned to the exhibition.) [FB 22/05/2013; JC 1 8 2014]

Illustrated in colour on page 154 of The Pitt Rivers Museum: A World Within, by Michael O’Hanlon (London: Scala, 2014). Caption (same page) reads: ‘115 Headdress of mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell and cocks' feathers, acquired on Captain James Cook's second voyage to the Pacific, 1772-5. Marquesas Islands Height 420 mm Collected by J.R. and G. Forster; transferred from the Ashmolean Museum 1886.1.1340' [MJD (Verve) 8/3/2016]

For an account of the history of the collection of which this is part, see 'The Cook-Voyage Collections at Oxford, 1772–1775', by Jeremy Coote, in Jeremy Coote (ed.), Cook-Voyage Collections of 'Artificial Curiosities' in Britain and Ireland, 1771–2015 (MEG Occasional Paper No. 5), Oxford: Museum Ethnographers Group (2015), pp. 74–122. (Copy in RDF: Researchers: Jeremy Coote (Cook-Voyage Collections).) [JC 9 6 2016]

Research notes: This is presumably the object Beatrice Blackwood had in mind when she remarked: 'There are in the Pitt-Rivers [sic] Museum at Oxford some specimens of "Kap-Kap" obtained in the Marquesas Islands by Captain Cook. This is the most easterly record of these ornaments which are part of the culture complex stretching from the Naga Hills to Santa Cruz....' See the untitled note credited to Blackwood appended to the published version of 'The Tamar of Santa Cruz', by H. G. Beasley, one of the papers read on 3 August 1938 to 'Section E(d). Ethnographique Océanienne' of the Congres International des Sciences Anthropologiques et Ethnologiques. Blackwood's note appears on page 293 of the published proceedings: Congres International des Sciences Anthropologiques et Ethnologiques: Compe Rendu de la Deuxieme Session, Copenhague 1938, Copenhagen: Einar Munksgaard (1939). [JC, undated]

Surface swabs were taken from the surface of the headdress, particularly the feathers, and sent to Andrew Charlton at FERA for detection of pestcide residues [JU 11/04/2013]