Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Wooden gorget (rei miro)
From Easter Island (Rapa Nui),
Probably first half 19th century AD
This type of crescent-shaped breast ornament, or gorget, was called a rei miro by the inhabitants of Easter Island who made them. They were mostly made of wood. This example has two perforations near the centre of the upper edge to take a neck cord. Unusually it has a line of incised rongorongo glyphs, a form of script thought to be an aide-memoire for the user rather than a form of communication. Typically, the ends of the ornament are carved as bearded male heads, reminiscent of western images of 'the man in the moon'.
Such pendants were worn by men as emblems of high rank. The ariki mau, or paramount chief wore a distinctive costume which consisted of a barkcloth cloak stained yellow with turmeric, a feather headdress, and wooden ornaments including rei miro. Smaller examples were worn by women.
John Linton Palmer, the surgeon of HMS Topaze (the ship responsible for collecting the statue of Hoa Hakananai'a in The British Museum) wrote in 1868 that men wore rei miro at dances.
S.R. Fischer, Rongorongo: the Easter Island (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1997)
A. Metraux, Ethnology of Easter Island (Honolulu, Bernice P. Bishop Museum, Bulletin 160, reprinted 1971)