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Whale tooth necklace (waseisei)

Not on view

Whales were understood throughout Polynesia to be manifestations of the ocean god Tangaloa (Tahiti: Ta’aroa; Hawai’i: Kanaloa). Whalebone and ivory were therefore considered sacred relics into which the god’s divine essence was fused. Expertly fashioned into elaborate breastplates and pendants or split lengthwise to form spectacular necklaces, this rare and valuable material visually reinforced the chiefs’ descent from the gods and legitimated their rule.

Whale tooth necklace (waseisei), Whale ivory, coconut fiber

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