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 When Collected: Between 17 August and 18 September 1773, or between 22 April and 4 June 1774? Acquired: Transferred 19 April 1886 Other Numbers: Part of Forster 1
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]
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]
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]