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Object: Wasekaseka (sperm whale tooth necklace)

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Title Wasekaseka (sperm whale tooth necklace)
Medium summary whale tooth ivory
Materials tooth
Classification necklaces
Credit line Oldman Collection. Gift of the New Zealand Government, 1992
Registration number OL002207

WÀSEISEI, ALSO KNOWN AS WÀSEKASEKA

 

Wàseisei are necklaces made from slivers cut from Sperm Whale teeth. These elaborate, labour-intensive forms of bodily adornment were worn by Fijian chiefs in the mid-to late 1800s. Not only are they aesthetically beautiful, wàseisei are precious examples of Pacific Island creativity and craftsmanship.

 

History

 

Whales’ teeth are prized by Fijians and other Pacific peoples, Tongans and Samoans in particular. During the 19th century’s Pacific whaling industry, fuelled by a Euro-American demand, whale teeth became more readily available in Fiji and this resulted in the greater production of valuable objects being made from these teeth. Tongan and Samoan canoe craftsmen living in Fiji carved wàseisei for Fijian chiefs using metal tools that had been introduced by European traders and whalers of the time.

 

Construction

 

A single whale tooth would be sawn down “into curved, pointed sections that were subsequently shaped and polished until they reached the desired concave form” (Sperlich 122). Holes would then be carefully drilled into the sides of each pendant and a rope usually made out of sennit would be strung through to keep the pendants in place.

 

Significance

 

These necklaces were worn by Fijian chiefs and symbolized their chiefly rank. According to Clunie, former curator of the Fiji Museum, they also served as ransom during Fijian wars of the time. This particular waseisei was part of the William Ockelford Oldman collection purchased by the New Zealand government in 1948.

References

Clunie, Fergus, 1986. Yalo I Viti: A Fiji Museum Catalogue. Suva: Fiji Museum.

Ewins, Rod, 1982. Fijian Artefacts: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Collection. Tasmania: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Neich, Roger and Fuli Pereira, 2004. Pacific Jewellery and Adornment. Auckland: Auckland War Memorial Museum and David Bateman Ltd.

Sperlich, Tobias, 2006. Embodied Inter-Cultural Dialogues: The biography of a Samoan necklace in Cologne. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, 115 (2):119-144.

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Disclaimer: This information was created from historic documentation, and may not necessarily reflect the best available knowledge about the item. Some collection images are created for identification purposes only and may not be of reproduction quality. Some images are not available due to copyright restrictions. If you have information or questions about objects in the collection, contact us using our enquiry form. You can also find out more about Collections Online.