Important and Rare Woman's Valuable, Belau (Palau), Caroline Islands
length 8 1/2in (21.6cm)
Collected by Admiral Sir William Parry (1790-1855) in the early 1820s
Thence by descent
Admiral Parry traveled widely and was involved in the Early Botany Bay settlement in Australia. He was an arctic Explorer of note who attempted one of the earliest expeditions to the North Pole. His daughter Lucy, who married the son of Admiral Robert Coote, inherited this dish. Their son Victor Coote had a daughter, Honor Dorothea who married Colonel Anthony Charles Barnes. In 1947 Colonel Barnes died. In 1983, his wife Honor moved into a retirement home and sold the contents of the property, which included this dish. Honor Dorothea died a year later.
For a similar example, see The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978.412.756), The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sidney Burnett, 1960.
"The accumulation and exchange of wealth in the form of prestige valuables is an important aspect of Belauan culture. Although frequently referred to as "money," Belauan valuables are not currency in the ordinary sense but treasured objects, often with extensive individual histories, which are exchanged between families only on important occasions such as births, marriages, or deaths. Men and women each have their own forms of wealth, which cannot be owned or exchanged by members of the opposite sex. Women's wealth consists of tolúk (shallow trays), such as the present work, and itrir (spoons) made from subtly mottled plates of turtle shell.
The trays and spoons are created through a complex process, in which flat plates of turtle shell are transformed into three-dimensional objects. To form the trays, individual plates of turtle shell are immersed in hot water to soften them. Now malleable, the plates are placed in two-part molds of wood, which are tied tightly together and further heated to press the plates into the desired bowl-like form. Still within the mold, the turtle shell is placed in cold water to harden. Once cooled, the newly formed tolúk is ready for use.
Exchanged between rather than within families, tolúk are owned and used exclusively by women, and are presented as ritual payment to female in-laws for food or services, such as assistance in the preparations for a feast. When received, the trays are carefully preserved and form part of a family's store of wealth. Through years of exchange and handling, tolúk acquire individual histories and a rich, glossy patina and old and storied trays are valued far more highly than more recent examples" (The Metropolitan Museum of Art).
This rare and elegant tolúk is one of the earliest recorded objects from Palau ever to come onto the market and, based upon the patina, wear, shell and stone carving marks, is most likely 18th Century or earlier.