Breast ornament (taumi)

RI 57.73


A U-shaped 'taumi' chest ornament made from feathers, sharks' teeth, pearl shell and dog hair on a wickerwork base. Tahitian warriors wore taumi to show their high status and possibly as protective breast-plates in battle. Chiefs also presented 'taumi' to visiting Europeans in the late 18th century as high-status gifts. The pictorial evidence suggests that ‘taumi’ were worn in pairs, across the front and back of the chest and shoulders, so that the head appeared to rise up and out of the jaws of a shark. White dog hair and disks of pearl shell were imported to Tahiti from the neighbouring islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago, while many hours of preparation were required for the capture of sharks in order to extract their teeth, alongside the gathering and grading of feathers from specific species of bird.