1890.5.1

Chief's necklace of red shell discs with pendants of pearl shell, black plant seeds and palm fibre. [MJD 17/12/2009]

Place details: OCEANIA MELANESIA. Papua New Guinea / Milne Bay Province [Massim]. Local Name: bagi Materials: Oyster Shell / Pearl Shell / Plant Seed / Palm Fibre Plant / String / Bead / Cowrie Shell / ?. Processes: Carved / Perforated / Strung / Tied / ?. Dimensions: Max L = 1250 mm Max W = 160 mm Field Collector: William Wyatt Gill When Collected: 1872 Other Owners: William Wyatt Gill PRM Source: William Wyatt Gill Acquired: Donated January 1890

KEYWORD: Neck Ornament / Status Object / CLASS: Ornament / Status / ?.

Object description: Chief's necklace of red shell discs with pendants of pearl shell, black plant seeds [banana?] and palm fibre. The red shell discs are interspersed with white beads and four long cylindrical black beads. The pendant is made from a circular piece of shell with holes around the edge. From each hole hands a length of red beads topped with a seed. The shell discs are threaded parallel to each other. A piece of pearl shell and palm fibre hangs at the bottom of each sting. [MJD 17/12/2009]

Publications history, trails & websites: Michael O'Hanlon refers to 1890.5.1 and 1940.12.313 as examples of the shell valuables circulated in the 'kula ring' in his article 'Take a case: Ornamental objects used as currency' published on page 5 of The Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford Magazine, issue 85 (Spring 2016). Talking about case L75A on the Lower Gallery, where these were both displayed until April 2016, O'Hanlon notes: 'The case is a favourite of mine, too, because it currently holds examples of the most celebrated shell ornaments in anthropology: the necklaces and arm shells which circulated in the 'kula ring'. First described by Bronislaw Malinowski in his 1922 classic Argonauts of the Western Pacific which set the standard for anthropological fieldwork, the kula is an elaborate system of ceremonial exchange linking island communities off the northeast coast of New Guinea. Malinowski described the perilous journeys people made by canoe to exchange these shell ornaments, necklaces circulating clockwise, arm shells anti-clockwise around the communities which make up the 'ring'. Neither arm shells nor necklaces are possessed permanently, or really worn on the body, but men compete for their temporary possession which brings great prestige. Malinowski brilliantly showed how the kula acted as a framework, uniting participants over a wide area, serving as a substitute for war and as an umbrella under which much trading of useful products also went on.' The article includes a colour photography of both objects, captioned: 'Kula armshell 1940.12.313 and necklace 1890.5.1, Trobriand Islands, PNG Armshells and necklaces were the principal valuables which circulated in the kula ring'. [ZM 2/9/2016]

Research notes: Spondylus are bivalves known as thorny oysters. [Encyclopædia Britannica Online] [CF 10/4/2000]