1886.1.1637 .2 .1
Part of a Mourner's Dress. Wooden breast plate with five mother of pearl shells and apron of cut pieces of mother of pearl shell. [MJD DDF Body Arts Project 2010/2011 26/11/2010]
Place details: OCEANIA POLYNESIA. Society Islands French Polynesia. Tahiti ?. Local Name: parai heva Materials: Wood Plant / Mother of Pearl Shell / Bird Feather / ?. Processes: Carved / Perforated / Ground / Tied / ?. Colour: Black, brown, white Dimensions: L (breast plate) = 900 mm; L (apron) = 780 mm Field Collector: Johann Reinhold Forster and George Forster When Collected: Between 17 August and 18 September 1773, or between 22 April and 4 June 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: Part of Forster 1 Documentation: RDF PRM Image: (Entire Mourner's Dress) PR 222 H; PR 14 H, PR 15 H, PR 16 H; A16 F32, Colour Transparency; Postcard; Slide 49&51; CD18.1 PSD file 1886_1-2.PSD of entire Mourner's dress (Nov 1999), CD111.5 (March 2013)
KEYWORD: Breast Plate Armour / Apron / Ceremonial Object / CLASS: Clothing / Ceremonial / Death / Armour Weapon / ?.
Object description: Part of a Mourner's Dress. The wooden breast plate is crescent shaped and painted black on one side. Five mother of pearl shells are sewn on to the breast plate with coconut fibre through perforations in the shells and the breast plate. There is one mother of pearl shell at either end and the remaining three are equally spaced along the breast plate. An apron consisting of thin rectangular cut pieces of mother of pearl shell is attached to the breast plate. The pieces of shell are strung together with fibre through a perforation in each shell. [NM 24/3/97]
Listed on page 2 of the manuscript 'Catalogue of Curiosities Sent to Oxford', thought to be in George Forster's hand, as no. 1 under the heading 'OTaheitee and the Society Isles' and described as follows: 'The Mourning Dress: The principal part or mask, by the natives called Parai Heva; the upper parts of Mother-of-pearl shells, with an edging of feathers from the tails of Tropick-birds. The apron, of small bits of Mother of pearl curiously put together, & ornamented with European beads, and opercula of shells; the Tassels of pigeons' feathers.' [NMM; JC 5 3 2005]
Apparently not listed in A Catalogue of the Ashmolean Museum Descriptive of the Zoological Specimens, Antiquities, Coins, and Miscellaneous Curiosities (Oxford, 1836), known as the Duncan catalogue. [JC 6 6 2008]
List of Anthropological objects transferred from the Ashmolean to the Pitt Rivers' museum 1886. New Zealand. Australian, S. Pacific Islands etc. [Vellum volumes] Volume II: Catalogue of the Australian New Zealand and Polynesian Collections in the Ashmolean Museum ... The following belong to the dress of the Mourner. Tahiti. 1637b. Two flat, wide, semicircular shaped pieces of thin wood of a pale brown colour, blackened on the surface and ornamented with several large mother of pearl shells tied on each through holes drilled through the edges of the shell. The most perfect of the two [this object, 1886.1.1637.2.1] has a deep fringe as it were of innumerable narrow thin strips of the same kind of shell, each piece neatly ground to shape perforated at each end and suspended by five strings in parallel rows end to end, but this unfortunately has been a good deal broken. The other one of the two boards [1886.1.1637.2.2] has a large smoky coloured shell attached surrounded by rays formed of the tail feathers of the Tropic bird, like to those (feathers) on the preceding article No. 1637a [1886.1.1637.1], and therefore they both probably belong to the same thing as that. Width about 37 [this object, 1886.1.1637.2.1] and 33 [1886.1.1637.2.2] inches. They appear to have been worn across the back and the breast of the figure. Captain Cook's Collection, 1772-1774, No. ?. Given by Reinhold Forster, Esq. Not entered in the printed catalogue of 1836. (From the storeroom in the old Clarendon building 1883) Though there are none of Cook's number labels on any of the following 1637a [1886.1.1637.1] to 1637l [1886.1.1637.12] except 1637h [1886.1.1637.10], yet there is no doubt they all belong to Cook's Collection.
Additional entry in Vellum volume II - Trans. to Anthrop. Mus. April 19th 1886 (1637b).'
Stuck in vellum volume [before page 4 of volume I] - Captain Cook's Collection Trans. to Anthrop Collection from the Ashmolean April 19th 1886
Ashmolean label handwritten by Edward Evans, Assistant Keeper, shortly before the transfer to the Pitt Rivers Museum 1885-6, is on the object but has not yet been read. [NMM; JC 5 3 2005]
This label reads:
‘1637b. Flat semicircular shaped piece of wood.
Decorated with Mother of Pearl Shells
From the back or the front of the figure of the Mourner.
Captain Cook’s Collection. 1772-1774, No , Given by Reinhold Forster Esq.
(Not entered in the printed catalogue of 1836.)
(From the storeroom in the Old Clarendon Building 1883)’
Ashmolean Accession book entry - Objects transferred from the Ashmolean Museum to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1886 or later: '1637b.-l. Polynesian, Society Islands, Tahiti. Mourning dress worn by priest or relative of deceased chief at funeral ceremonies (heva). Given to Capt. Cook by King Otoo's father. Cook's 2nd Voyage, 1772-1774. Figured in 2nd Voyage, vol. I, pl. 44, p. 330. Capt. Cook coll., Reinhold Forster. (b). [1886.1.1637.2.1 - .2] 2 curved pieces of wood with pearl-shell valves applied, one piece with fringe of small bars of pearl shell (1637.2.1). (c). [1886.1.1637.3.1 - .2] 2 sets of 4 pearl-shell valves to go at right angles on (b), on wood, & one shell in each with rayed fringe of long Phaeton feathers. (d). [1886.1.1637.4] Cloak of fibre net with feather tufts. (e). [1886.1.1637.5] Piece of bark cloth, 5'10" x 14", covered with coconut shell discs (129), with slit forhead [sic]. (f). [1886.1.1637.6] Palm leaf head dress with feathers & human hair tufts with hanging bark cloth behind. (g). [1886.1.1637.7] Reddish coloured piece of bark cloth, painted one side, with slit for head, 6' x 5'. (h). [1886.1.1637.8] Like (g), but 7' x 2', no. 9 in Cook coll. (i). [1886.1.1637.9] Like (f), but much damaged and moth eaten. (j). [1886.1.1637.10] Thick piece of white tapa with hole for head, c. 9 1/2" x 5'. (k). [1886.1.1637.11] 2 pieces of tapa twined together, dark & light. (l). [1886.1.1637.12.1 - .5] 7 pearl-shell valves, 6 tied in pairs for clappers. 2 clappers in hands of figure. (In Ashmolean subject index, there is a drawing with the above lettering, by E.S.J).' Added: 'In pocket.' Note: The drawing has not been found [NM 24 1 1997; revised JC 6 6 2008].
Related Documents File - Notes on conservation articles relating to Mourner's costumes in museum collections as well as notes regarding the conservation treatment of the PRM's Mourner's costume, written by Jeremy Uden, Senior Conservator at the PRM. [FC 08/12/2010]
Display history: See the information provided in the entry for the Mourner's Dress as a whole. [JC 5 3 2005]
Exhibited on the lower gallery of the Pitt Rivers Museum from 23 January 2012 to 27 July 2014 in a special display providing an 'exploded' view of the Mourner's Dress. Label read: 'Breastplate and apron | The breastplate is made from stained wood with five pearl shells attached with coconut fibre. The apron is made from small pieces of shell with a hole drilled in either end, sewn together with fine woven coconut fibre thread. The missionary William Ellis, wrote in 1830 that the apron was considered to be very sacred, and that images of the gods were displayed while it was being made. 1886.1.1637 .2 .1' [JC 18 7 2014]
Publications history, trails & websites: See also the information provided in the entry for the Mourner's Dress as a whole. [JC 5 3 2005]
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 (Oxford: Pitt Rivers Museum, no date). The text from the 'Forster' manuscript is followed by the following notes: 'The Mourning Dress No. 1. The principal part or Mask [1886.1.1637.3], by the natives called Parai Heva; the upper parts of Mother-of-pearl-shells, with an edging of feathers from the tails of Tropick-birds. The apron [1886.1.1637.2.1 - .2], of small bits of Mother of pearl couriosly put together, & ornamented with European beads, and opercula of shells; the Tassels of pigeon's feathers. Strangely, in view of the detail of his description, Forster omits a number of important features: for example, from No. 1, the crescentic wooden base (1886.1.1637.2.1) on which are mounted five pearl shells, and from which the pearl shell frontlet (apron) is suspended;...These magnificent dresses were worn by the chief mourner when he led a group of youth in a warlike procession, apparently designed to symbolically revenge any injury received by the deceased. Banks took part in this ceremony during the first voyage, and may have brought back a dress. Most of those which arrived in Europe, however, probably did so in 1775. It was Tahitian greed for the red feathers obtained at Tonga in October 1773 which brought them on to the market. The feathers were "...used as Symbols of the Eatua's or Divinities in all their religious ceremonies" (Cook), and were in short supply on Tahiti.'
Listed (in three parts as as c, d, and e) under the number 3 ‘Tahiti...Complete mourning dresses’ on page 124 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): '3. Mourning dress, Oxford (1-4 and 9-11): (a) shell face mask with surmounted headpiece edged with tropical bird feathers; (b) turban of bark cloth with tying cords; (c) crescentic wood chest piece with mounted pearl shells; (d) chest apron of tiny slips of mother-of-pearl shells; (e) feather tassels; (f) bark cloth apron with coconut shell discs; (g) feathered cloak; (h) three pieces of bark cloth, white, red, and brown; (i) bark cloth sash. Evidence: Forster collection. Second voyage. Literature: Gathercole, n.d. (1970) [see above]'. [JP 23/7/2002]
Listed as part of the complete mourning dress (Forster 1-4, 9-11) on page 562 of 'Appendix A: Catalogue of Society Island Objects with Secure Eighteenth-Century Provenance' in 'Shaping the Body Politic: Gender, Status, and Power in the Art of Eighteenth-Century Tahiti and the Society Islands', by Anne Elizabeth D'Alleva (New York: Columbia University, Ph.D. thesis, 1997). She describes it as follows: 'Shell and turtle shell face mask edged with tropic bird feathers; turban of bark cloth with tying cords (these are unique: wrapped with finely braided human hair, tamau); crescentic wood chest piece with pearl shells, feather tassels at each end; barkcloth tunic covered with small coconut shell ornaments; tunics of white, red, brown barkcloth; black feather cape; barkcloth sash.' [JP 31/7/2002]
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]
Research notes: Some of the swabs used to clean the shells on the breastplate, which were covered in a greasy black deposit, were given to Andrew Charlton from DEFRA to test for pesticide residues. [JU 24/07/2012]
Other information: A Mourner's Costume study day for conservators and museum collections staff working with mourner's costumes in their collections was held at the Pitt River's Museum on the 14th December 2010, a schedule of the day and list of participants can be found in the RDF. [FC 08/12/2010]