Hats and Bits PV
Bangles, Bracelets, Mask, Ceremonial Hats and Other Bits and Bobs, Cultural Museum, Port Vila
Wooden Mask – Chubwan or Chubaan, made by Sa’a language speakers, South Pentecost. Traditionally used in ritual Tebatna Lobung in the Bunlap area. This ceremony followed the men’s sacred meal for the first yams harvested in April. Knowledge necessary for carving such masks was exclusive property. For a ceremony, four Chubwan masks, two black and two whitened by ash, and a special one called Tebat Na Lobung were made. On the day of a ceremony, the principal dancer proceeded to the dancing ground accompanied by the sound of bamboo flutes, conch shell trumpets and loud cries. While the masked men danced, others hurled stones and women threw clumps of earth at the figures to attract their attention, but it was never intended that the sacred figures be hit. The ceremony ended with a meal of yam laplap. This rite is no longer practised in Bunlap.
Pigs are like money and still play an important role in Ni-Vanuatu culture. They’re used in traditional ceremonies, in trade negotiations and marriages. They are presented to the wife’s family after the birth of the first boy. They are used as a gesture of peace with the tusk from a pig’s head being used as a symbol of remembrance. Pigs tusks are also made into armbands and bracelets, which can be found in jewellery stores in the town, popular with tourists. Pig killing is part of the custom of the land – it certainly isn’t for the pig as the dispatch of the animal is rarely immediate. Tusks are represented symbolically – on the flag, currency, also the logo of Air Vanuatu and on Tusker beer labels. This beautiful pig’s tusk was presented to Queen Elizabeth who in turn donated back to the museum for the people of Vanuatu.
Red Mat. In Pentecost and Ambae, red mats are used as currency. They are made of pandanus leaf and only women are allowed to produce them. Traditional money is used to buy almost all the necessities of ritual and spiritual life. Red mats, for example, are used for the payments and exchanges involved in marriage, initiation and graded rituals. During the marriage, the bride will exchange her red mats for the bridegroom’s tusker pigs. The red colour is said to symbolise menstrual blood.
Headdresses. All of these headdresses are from south west Malekula. [Nalwan or Nalawan is a kind of ceremony that any man or woman can perform if he or she pays for the right. All the headdresses in the museum have been used in ceremonies such as, circumcision, funeral, grade taking, yam or many others. Only the person who pays for the right to use it can wear it and dance with it.]
Wohobon. Lawa Village. This headdress is used in any Nalawan ceremony.
Nivinbur. Toman Island. Used during circumcision ceremonies.
Netemes Ninu. Malfakhal village. Used during Nalawan Vimbump.
Nalawan Nohsua. Lawa village. Used during the yam festival.
Ninbur. Toman Island. Used during a circumcision ceremony.
Swumbo Mahahu. Lawa village. Used during Nalawan Nemesiene - a funeral ceremony.
Tooth Extraction. This procedure, where the two top middle incisors were extracted, was performed solely on girls and it marked their marriage status. It was undertaken only after a girl had got her second set of teeth, after the age of seven or eight and when the full bride price had been paid – a betrothal or engagement The practise was also thought to ensure growth and strength. It was restricted to areas such as east Santo, the west coast of Malekula and possibly on Epi. The teeth were generally loosened or knocked out by hitting a stick that was held directly against the tooth.
Hair Dos. These were not particularly distinctive throughout much of Vanuatu apart from the south. On Aniwa, Futuna, Tanna and Aneityum elaborate plaiting of the hair was a common feature for boys and men. Once boys had reached puberty and their hair was some fifteen centimetres long, it was bleached with lime and divided into approximately seven hundred individual strands. Around each of these strands was wound a spiral of fine thread which was regularly added to as the hair grew. When the strands were long enough they were tied together in a bundle behind the head.
Nose Piercing. Piercing the cartilage of the nose and associated insertion of an ornament was a widespread practise throughout Vanuatu included those made of wooden sticks or stones, wooden plugs and sea urchin spines. The custom of deforming the nose was present but less common. A hole was made in the septum and a springy coil, normally made from a strip of thin elastic bark or pandanus rolled up like a watch spring, was inserted vertically. The steady pressure of the spring enlarged the nose – the larger the nose, the more elegant the individual was conceived to be. Ear piercing and body painting have also been recorded.
Women tattooing a girl in Aoba. 1920 – F. Speiser.
Tattooing used to be prevalent throughout Vanuatu. In 1920 F. Speiser noted “almost every individual has somewhere on his body a few black dots or lines. Tattooing was more common in islands where the population were lighter skinned such as the Banks Islands, Aoba [Ambae], Efate and Erromango.
In Aoba tattooing was obligatory decoration for both sexes. Depending on their rank in society, men could pay in pigs for the rights to special designs. Girls were not tattooed until they were betrothed and according to the rank held by their father, women received more and more tattoos the higher their father rose in rank, in some the whole body was covered. Tattooing was done by women. A needle consisting of two orange thorns tied to a stick was used. First the design was drawn on the skin with a fine point dipped in tattooing colour, then the woman seized the needle in her hand and tapped it with a stick after being dipped in the pigment paste made by heating a piece of nangae nut tree in a fire until sap dripped out, this was collected in a coconut shell. The same juice was rubbed over the new tattoo to stop it festering. A great deal of pigment oozed from the wound and the scab formed after ten days or so. When healed the tattoo was lighter than at the start and was reported as “not being too painful.” Payment to the lady artist was in pigs. The missionaries did the best they could to rid the land of the art form, many would say successfully but were they................
Scarification has also been recorded.
Two Futunese women with necklaces and rings made from small conus shell rings. 1890’s.
Women wearing ear ornaments and a variety of necklaces, including Chinese beads, Tanna. 1913.
Chief Ilabnambenpen from Malekula wearing shell and wooden bracelets, a shell bead band, a necklace of pig tusks, a band around his head and a twig or bone pierced through his nose. An Ambae chief wearing a headdress, armband and belt made form small conus shell beads woven together.
Small Nambas seen emerging from their circumcision ceremony, wearing trochus bracelets, shell bead armbands and adorned hair with leaves and feathers.
Chief Jerry Taki with some dancers from Erromango wearing tapa.
.ALL IN ALL A COMPLEX SOCIETY IN A SIMPLE LIFE