Possibly Malaita Island, Solomon Islands
Tridacna shell, pigment
Diam. 2 1/2 in. (6.4 cm)
Bequest of John B. Elliott, 1997 (1999.47.21)
Elliptical or circular ornaments of Tridacna shell (the giant clam and related species) with engraved designs infilled with black pigment were widespread in the eastern Solomon Islands. The present example may be from Malaita, where such ornaments were called ulute and were worn by men as pendants. The central design of this example portrays frigate birds—large black sea birds recognizable by their hooked beaks and the distinctive M-shaped configuration of their wings. Frigate birds signaled the annual appearance of schools of bonito, a large fish greatly prized as food. The arrival of the bonito, who churned the sea into a dense boiling mass as they fed upon smaller fish, was an unpredictable event, believed to be controlled by spirits. Visible from afar, frigate birds indicated the presence of bonito as they hovered over and dived into the feeding frenzy.