The Penn Museum is now open! Learn more about our guidelines for your visit.

Exchange Valuable

Native NameTabua
Object Number:P2537
Current Location: Collections Storage
Provenience: Fiji Islands
Materials:Whale Tooth
Plant Fiber
Length: 11.3 cm
Width: 5.2 cm
Credit Line:Purchased from W. O. Oldman; Subscription of Herbert L. Clark in memory of Edward W. Clark, 1911
Other Number:11789 - Oldman Number


Sperm Whale tooth with thick-walled oval opening at root end with one pierced hole. One pierced hole at tip with twisted plant fiber. Polished, possibly oiled giving it a "light honey" color.

On back of original catalogue card it reads:


Of the cachalot of sperm whale. The teeth were broken out of the lower jaw of whales cast up on the reefs. They were highly prized in FIJI and the stock was supplemented by imports from Tonga. They became the property of the chiefs only. A whale's tooth could buy a large canoe or pay the fine for manslaughter; it was a passport on the 'spirit path' to the other world and a safe-conduct for a chief's messenger in this. Whale's teeth formed part of the bride price. Collars made from whole teeth or from teeth split and polished were worn by chiefs.

FIJI P2531

You may also be interested in these objects:

See a problem? Let us know