Tongan Tabua Necklace Art History Paper

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* Tonga Islands
Necklace, ca. 1810-30
Whale teeth, Fiber
86.50.2 IUAM
31 in. cord; 5.25 in. longest tooth

Madison Turner
FINA-A351
December 3, 2012
* The object of art in which this paper analyzes is a necklace from the Tonga Islands, approximately from the period of 1810-1830. It is made of tabua- polished ivory whale’s teeth- that has been decorated with dark motifs and strung on a fiber cord. The approximate length of the necklace’s cord is 31 inches, with the longest tooth measuring roughly 5.25 inches. * The necklace contains twenty-four tabua pieces. Each piece is carved in the shape of a whales tooth, long and triangular, coming to a sharp point at the outer end. Each carved section of whale’s tooth differs in shape, color, and design pattern. The carved pieces of tooth are polished a light honey color, but vary in the patterns drawn on them. Small holes pierce the upper, broader end of the tooth pieces, where a fiber cord has been strung through. This forms the necklace shape and keeps the tooth sections together. Interestingly, the fiber cord appears to be new. It is a medium tan color that blends in with the honey color of the whale’s tooth pieces. * The part of the necklace that is worn closest to one’s neck, where the sennit cord holds the upper ends of the tabua pieces together, is bulky with little to no space between each section. However, because each piece forms a sharp point at the opposite end, the tabua pieces fan out away from one another creating space between them. Interestingly, although the pieces of whale’s tooth are carved in roughly the same shape, they are each strung on the fiber cord in different directions. This sporadic placement creates large gaps between some of the pieces, and leaves other pieces to be lying close together. There seems to be no particular pattern as to which they have been placed on the cord. * The aspect of this necklace that stands out as the most unique is the use of different patterns drawn on each individual tooth piece. Some pieces have close to the same motifs, while others are more distinctive and one piece is completely bare. * The far right piece has been made to look mostly dark brown with only a few random splotches of the natural tooth showing. The piece to its right is much more detailed in the design applied. The pigment used is far darker, almost black. The motif appears to be vines with leaves and flowers covering the entire upper face of the piece. The flowers consist of three circles joined at the center, looking similar to three-leaf clovers. The vines do not extend to the bottom side of the whale tooth piece. The same goes for the designs on all of the other pieces of this necklace. Each piece has only been given patterns to the side that faces outward, when worn on the neck. A similar version of this vine and flower design is used in six of the other pieces.

The next tooth’s pattern uses the same dark pigment, but simply has a vertical row of five-point asterisks, lining the tooth from the top to the bottom point. The next piece’s pattern is hard to make out due to the lighter brown pigment, as well as the various small details added. There definitely is the use of triangles or perhaps diamond shapes throughout the piece. Smaller dots and lines cover the rest of the piece, but it is difficult to make out what they depict. On the fifth piece from the right, the patterns used are unlike any pattern seen on this necklace. At first glance, it looks as if there have been names listed in cursive writing, one below another. At a closer look, it appears that the patterns could be a version of dark zigzag lines that look like rows of the letter ‘M’. Similar to the asterisks piece and the piece containing vines and flowers, this piece uses the dark pigment. Some of these horizontally stacked zigzag lines are connected on the sides, giving them a visual resemblance to the shape of mountains.

Three of the pieces have light brown...
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