Breastplate (Civanovonovo), early 19th century
Fiji (created by Tongan artists)
Whale ivory, pearl shell, fiber; H. 7 5/8 in. (19.4 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1960 (1978.412.746)
Worn exclusively by male chiefs, breastplates in the Fiji Islands were precious and powerful objects. A prestigious element of ceremonial attire, when worn into battle these ornaments were said to make a warrior invulnerable to his enemies. The plates were worn on the chest, suspended from two cords tied together behind the wearer's neck. A third cord passed around the body to hold the ornament in place during battle and other strenuous activities.
Although serving as ornaments for high-ranking Fijian chiefs, the breastplates were created by Tongan and Samoan artists, who had begun to settle in Fiji by the late 1700s. The plates were fashioned primarily from whale ivory, a precious material often used, as here, in combination with pearl shell. Although the ivory elements on some examples resemble stars or crescent moons, their precise significance is unknown.