Exceedingly Rare Figure from a Necklace, Fiji Islands

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Lot 309Y
Exceedingly Rare Figure from a Necklace, Fiji Islands

Sold for US$ 250,000 inc. premium

African and Oceanic Art

22 May 2018, 15:00 PDT

Los Angeles

Exceedingly Rare Figure from a Necklace, Fiji Islands
Sperm whale tooth (Physeter macrocephalus)
height 2 3/8in (6cm)

Private Collection, New Bedford, Massachusetts, 1960s

Steven Hooper notes, 'The earliest dates for human settlement of western Polynesia suggest that sometime around 1000 BC voyagers crossed the 700-mile divide between the main Melanesian islands and Fiji. These people made a distinctive dentate-stamped form of pottery called Lapita, named after the site on New Caledonia where it was first identified. These "Lapita peoples", who no doubt made return voyages, were the ancestors of modern Polynesians. After their arrival they appear to have consolidated in the region, prior to a further eastward exploratory push during the second half of the first millennium AD. Archaeological evidence indicates dynamic periods of cultural change around AD 1000-1200, and a period of fort-building in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries.

By the 18th century chiefdoms were established throughout the region, their relative strengths waxing and waning as alliances and conflicts affected their relationships. And extensive exchange network existed between Fiji, Tonga and Samoa (Kaeppler, Adrienne, 'Exchange patterns in goods and spouses; Fiji, Tonga and Samoa.' Mankind, 1978, 11(3): 246-52). Tongan influence was increasing in eastern Fiji, and specialist carpenters are constructing large double canoes with efficient Micronesian rigs which allowed great maneuverability and maritime supremacy. Into this dynamic situation arrived Cook during his second and third voyages in the 1770s, and other Europeans such as Malaspina and D'Entrecasteaux followed. Cooke name Tonga the "Friendly Islands" and Bougainville in 1768 called Samoa "Navigator's Islands." Information about the first decades of the nineteenth century derives from the remarkable account by William Mariner of his four-year stay in Tonga between 1806 and 1810 (Mariner, William, An account of the natives of the Tonga Islands in the South Pacific Ocean: with an original grammar and vocabulary of their language, John Martin (ed.) 3rd edition. Edinburgh: Constable), and from accounts of visits of sandalwood traders such as Lockerby to Fiji. (Im Thrun, E. and L.C. Wharton (EDS), 1925, The journal of William Lockerby, sandalwood trader in the Fijian Islands during the years 1808-1809, ...London: Hakluyt Society).

Bêche-de-mer traders and missionaries of the London Missionary Society and the Methodist mission arrived in the 1820s. Chiefs in Tonga were converted around 1830 but it was not until 1854 that Cakobau, Fiji's most powerful chief, converted to Christianity after a prolonged period of warfare between the major chiefdoms of Bau and Rewa (Sahlins, MD, Apologies to Thucydides: understanding history as culture and vice versa Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2004). Meanwhile Tongan expansionist policies, personified in the Christian warrior Ma'afu, were affecting eastern Fiji, a process only stopped by the cession to Fiji to Britain in 1874. Fiji became independent in 1970. Tonga, under the long-lived King George Toupou and his successors, has maintained its independence. Samoa fell increasingly under German influence in the late nineteenth century, before being split into two--western Samoa (independent in 1962) and American Samoa.

The immense amount of activity in the region during the period under review means that the attribution of objects is often difficult. Samoan-Tongan carpenters were settled in eastern and coastal of Fiji, working in the service of local chiefs to produce canoes and regalia made of shell and ivory. Their presence is manifested in the large amount of whale-ivory inlay which can be found in artefacts from this period. This was a result of the increased availability of whales' teeth and metal tools through trade with Europeans, and a cultural situation in which ivory was highly valued and strategically important.' (Pacific Encounters - Art & Divinity in Polynesia 1760-1860, Sainsbury Century for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 2006, p. 241)

A unique Fijian necklace in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge (no. Z2752) is composed of multiple figurines and pendants. Almost identical to the work presented here, all of the figurines have large round heads with a squared nose, slit mouth, diminutive arms, a slightly raised vaginal area and straight legs with feet pointing downward with incisions made to imitate toes. In addition, each figurine, like the work presented here, has been pierced through on the back of their heads for suspension, and each have darker honey patina on their backs than on their fronts as a result of years of contact with the Fijian person, presumably of significant status in order to have the opportunity to wear such a magnificent work of art.

Cf. Hooper, Steven, Pacific Encounters - Art & Divinity in Polynesia 1760-1860, Sainsbury Century for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 2006, fig. 233

Cf. Hooper, Steven, Fiji - Art & Life in the Pacific, Sainsbury Research Center for the Arts of Africa, Oceania & the Americas, Norwich, 2016, fig. 41

Saleroom notices

  • Please note, there is a 3mm sample hole taken from the left hip, as the result of a required DNA test.
Exceedingly Rare Figure from a Necklace, Fiji Islands
Exceedingly Rare Figure from a Necklace, Fiji Islands
Exceedingly Rare Figure from a Necklace, Fiji Islands
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