- Museum number
Mask of pearlshell and tropic bird feathers. Large pearlshells which have been pierced and bound together with coir. The tropic bird feathers are bound with fibre and attached to a plaited coir band on the reverse of the mask. Component part of a Tahitian Mourner's costume.
- Production date
- 18thC(late) (before 1774)
Height: 80 centimetres (Approx)
Height: 250 centimetres (Height of the whole costume when assembled.)
Width: 88 centimetres (Approx)
Width: 140 centimetres (Width of the whole costume when assembled.)
Depth: 4 centimetres (Approx)
Depth: 100 centimetres (Depth of the whole costume when assembled.)
- Curator's comments
- 'Spectacular costumes of this kind 'heiva tupapa'u' were witnessed during Cook's voyages as being worn by a 'chief mourner' as part of funerary and mortuary rituals, when he would terrorize the locality accompanied by a troupe of assistants. The costume forms a complete body mask made of a dazzling combination of highly valued materials; the panel suspended beneath the wood gorget is composed of hundreds of carefully cut and drilled slivers of pearl shell which rippled and flashed in movement.' - from Hooper (2006:182).
These costumes were very expensive to make. Some of the coconut pendants attached to the barkcloth apron have notched motifs, a design that refers to ancestral genealogies.
Cook most probably collected this costume on his second voyage (1772- 1775) in HMS Resolution, when Tahitian chiefs agreed to receive sacred red feathers from Tonga in exchange for the mourner's costume. Probably the one presented to Captain Cook at Tahiti on May 1774.
See Beaglehole, J.C. (eds), 1961, 'The journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of discovery', 4 vols in 5. Cambridge University Press, published for the Hakluyt Society (Extra Series, 34-7): 392).
When cleaned and restored at the British Museum in 11-12,1966, the costume was found to be mounted upon an eighteenth-century easel with a hitherto unknown wooden figure supporting the headdress – the wooden figure TAH.78.a (see separate record).
Conservation work published in Cranstone & Gower 1968. They believed that the costume and wooden figure inside could have been assembled like this either in Tahiti or onboard the Resolution. Upon conservation it was discovered that only materials of Tahitian origin had been employed to secure it, rather than naval or European materials.
Teilhet, J.H., 1979, 'The equivocal nature of masking tradition in Polynesia' in ‘Exploring the visual art of Oceania', S.M. Mead (ed.), 192-201. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, and Jessop, M., 2002, 'Heiva tupapa'u: an instantiation of potency in death or life?', Unpublished MA dissertation, Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia, have discussed their significance.)
With respect to exchange, Cook wrote that during a visit from 'the Royal Family', Tu's father 'made me a present of a compleat Mourning dress, curiosities we most valued, in return i gave him whatever he desired and distributed red feathers to all the others'
Also see D’Alleva, Anne, ‘Change and continuity in decorated Tahitian barkcloth from Bligh’s second breadfruit voyage, 1791-1793’, Journal of the Pacific Arts, 1995, nos 11-12, pp. 29-42.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1979 – 1980 15 Feb-29 Sept, London, BM, Museum of Mankind, Captain Cook in the South Seas
2018-2019, 29 Nov-4 Aug, London, BM, G91, Reimagining Captain Cook: Pacific Perspectives
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Thought to be collected during the second of Cook's voyages (1772-1775). Registered with material of known eighteenth-century provenance; probably the one presented to Captain Cook at Tahiti on 7 May 1774.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
CDMS number: Oc17??D11.78 (old CDMS no.)
Other BM number: Oc,TAH.78