Breastplate (Civanovonovo)

Fijian people

Not on view

Worn exclusively by male chiefs, breastplates in the Fiji Islands were precious and powerful objects and a prestigious element of ceremonial attire. When worn into battle, they were said to make the wearer invulnerable to enemies. Breastplates were suspended from two cords tied together behind the wearer’s neck, while a third cord passed around the body to hold the ornament in place on the chest during battle and other strenuous activities. Although worn by Fijian chiefs, breastplates were created by Tongan and Samoan artists, who had begun to settle in Fiji by the late 1700s. The plates were fashioned primarily from whale ivory, a precious material often used in combination with pearl shell. The ivory elements on some examples resemble stars or crescent moons, but their precise significance is unknown.

Breastplate (Civanovonovo), Whale ivory, pearl shell, fiber, Fijian people

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