British Museum collections, £12.99
Length: 93.000 cm
Height: 53.000 cm (with lid)
Collected by Captain Henry
Formerly owned by Revd William Wills
Gift of Miss Salter
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Inlaid bird bowl
Possibly 18th century AD
This is one of eight artefacts that forms the earliest known collection from Belau, formerly known as Palau or the Pelew Islands, which lie in the north-western Pacific in an area known as Micronesia. Belau is now a republic, established in 1981.
The finely carved wooden bowl, stained a reddish brown, is shaped like a bird. It was used as a container for sweet drink, with the upper section forming a lid. The white shell inlay includes bird motifs. Men of high rank used prestigious inlaid vessels for exchanging gifts of food, and early European visitors recorded that they were honoured in this manner. This bowl originally belonged to the High Chief of Koror, the ibedul, who gave it to Captain Henry Wilson during a farewell feast. Wilson and his crew had stayed on Belau for three months in 1783, while a replacement was being built for Antelope, their wrecked East India Company ship. George Keate published a drawing of the bowl in his 1788 account of the experiences of the crew.
The Belauans continue to make inlaid vessels to this day.
G. Keate, An account of the Pelew Isla-1 (London, Wilson and Nichol, 1788)