Early Chest Ornament or "Wawapu"

Early Chest Ornament or "Wawapu"

A very fine and early chest ornament or "wawapu" worn both as a symbole of rank and prestige as well as a protective device against arrows and spears. The main section is composed of overlayed split pigs tusks with a woven ratan support. The borders of the champ-levé woven section are enhanced with sea shells and the whole is fringed with fiber tassels. Aitape area to Humboldt Bay, North Coast, Sandaun province, PNG, Melanesia. Pig tusk, ratan, nassa shell, fiber with a very fine patina of age and use. 19th/20th century. Ex Dutch colonial collection. Ex Maurice Stevens collection, Rotterdam.
 

Literature: See Heermann, I. and Menter, U., "Schmuck der Südsee: Ornament und Symbol", Munich, 1990, p.60, no.6, for a similar ornament attributed to the Aitape region.

The engravings from the HMS Challenger expedition of 1872 to 1876 showing the men of the Humboldt Bay area wearing Wawapu.