British Museum collections, £12.99
Diameter: 13.500 cm
Gift of C.M. Woodford
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Chest or forehead ornament (kapkap)
From Roviana Lagoon, New Georgia, Solomon
Probably late 19th century AD
Kapkap is the popular term for a type of chest or forehead ornament. They are traditionally made from a disc of white shell overlaid with a thin plate of openwork carving, usually of turtle-shell or coconut shell, but in recent times plastic has been used. They are made in Papua New Guinea (both on the mainland and some of the islands to the north) and the Solomon Islands. Slightly different types were made, further away, in the Marquesas and Caroline Island groups. Solomon Islanders wear kapkaps on the forehead, slightly to the side of the head, attached to a cord or sometimes a plaited headband.
Kapkaps from the Solomon Islands demonstrate very high levels of skill in the working of turtle-shell. Motifs used vary, but may include cross or flower shapes, and bird or human figures.
This example was presented to The British Museum in 1900 by Charles Woodford, District Commisioner for the Solomon Islands, which had been declared as a British protectorate in 1893. It is an interesting early example of the use of non-traditional materials, as the base plate is made from a disc ground down from a ceramic willow pattern plate, the design of which is apparent on the back of the ornament.
R. Jewell and J. Lloyd, Pacific designs, British Museum Pattern Books (London, The British Museum Press, 1998)
G.A. Reichard, Melanesian design: a study of, vol. 1 (New York, Columbia University Press, 1933, reprinted 1969)
D. Starzecka and B.A.L. Cranstone, The Solomon Islanders (London, The British Museum Press, 1974)