- Museum number
- Object: Man Wearing Mourners Dress
A Tahitian man wearing a mourner's dress made of barkcloth, feathers, pearl shells, wood and coconut shells, holding a long weapon edged with shark teeth. 19thC(late). Dress is understood to be the one in the British Museum collection, Oc,TAH.78 collected by James Cook.
- Production date
Height: 8.40 centimetres
Width: 4.80 centimetres
- Curator's comments
This print is seemingly a partial section of an invitation card, due to the inscription on the reverse of the print.
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. When conserved at the British Museum the costume was found to be mounted upon an eighteenth-century easel with a hitherto unknown wooden figure supporting the headdress (Cranstone, B.A.L. and Gowers, H.J.,1968, 'The Tahitian mourner's dress: a discovery and a description', British Museum Quarterly, 32(3/4): 138-44). 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University of Hawaii Press, and Jessop, M., 2002, 'Heiva tupapa'u: an instantiation of potency in death or life?', Unpublished MA dissertation, Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia, have discussed their significance.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 what ever he desired and distributed red feathers to all the others' 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.
- Not on display
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number