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Breastplate ‘aofi (tui tofua’a)

Breastplate ‘aofi (tui tofua’a)

Place: Tonga
Category: Jewellery & adornment

whalebone, Tonga, 47.5 x 50 cm, Inv. Oz 137

Forster Register A.14: ‘a shield from Otaheiti’

The breast plate is made of bone, almost round and slightly curved. The surface is even on both sides, with one side additionally polished. Two holes are drilled through the plate very close to the rim, about 31 cm apart.

The breast plate is made of the shoulder blade of a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) (Plischke 1939: 124f., 128). Forster (1989, I: 362) mentioned such a breast plate as being purchased in Tonga, and not in Tahiti.

Because the Tongans depended on stranded whales (rather than on hunted) in pre-European times, the teeth and bones of whales were rare and therefore very valuable. In Tonga, only the chiefs had the right to possess them. Since it is unlikely that breast plates were manufactured regularly, or were even typical insignia of the chiefs, this object was probably made especially for a particular individual (Plischke 1939:136). It is not the only one of its kind, however. Another breast plate collected on the second voyage is now located in the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford (Kaeppler 1978a: 211). Inken Köhler, Ulrike Rehr, Gundolf Krüger

Sources

Forster, Georg, Reise um die Welt, 2 Teile, in Georg Steiner (ed.), Georg Forsters Werke (2 und 3), Sämtliche Schriften, Tagebücher, Briefe, herausgegeben von der Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR, Akademie-Verlag, Berlin, [1777] 1989.

Kaeppler, Adrienne L, ‘Artificial Curiosities’ Being An Exposition of Native Manufactures Collected on the Three Pacific Voyages of Captain James Cook RN [Exhibition catalogue], Bishop Museum Press, Honolulu, 1978a.

Plischke, Hans, Ein Brustschmuck von Tonga-tabu und die Verarbeitung von Walknochen in Polynesien, Nachrichten von der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Philologisch-Historische Klasse, Fachgruppe II, Berlin, 1939, vol. 2, no 7.