Important tabua – 3

According to an abstract paper by Pita Tatawaqa sourced from the National Archives and translated and read before the Fijian Society by GAF Beauclere on August 11, 1913 those near to the sea or living on the coast used as tabua a certain seashell which is the same as the aiwaoqo or the shell called the muaniwaqa.

“When one of these shells was found, it was sunned that the outer skin might fall off. When the skin had fallen away, the surface of it was bright red, like perhaps the appearance of a red tooth of a whale. The did not attach a string to it, and for this they called it the tabu-wa (ie not having a string). It is thought that it is from this word that the word tabua is derived.

In conjunction with the iTaukei Trust Fund Board, the Fiji Museum displays several tabua, each having their place in history.

The information below is sourced from the Fiji Museum and the iTaukei Trust Fund Board.


Chief’s breastplate, composed of a central core made from a civa, or black-lipped pearl shell (Meleagrina margaritifera), inlaid and surrounded by plates split from sperm whale teeth, lashed to the pearl-shell through converging pairs of holes drilled obliquely into their back surfaces.

Known as raravovo salusalu, this early example of a civavonovono or composite breastplate shares several features with one belonging to Tanoa, Vunivalu of Bau, which was first recorded in the 1830s, and illustrated by an artist attached to the US Exploring Expedition in 1840. The whale tooth plates have been inserted into the huge pearly-shell base, both their back surfaces and the edges of the pearl-shell being rebated to ensure a snug fit, and lashed to each other and to the shell through pairs of converging holes bored from their back surfaces.

The significance of the star and crescent inlays, typical Tongan motifs seen on other breastplates, clubs and headrests, is not understood. Breastplates of this broad, early type were suspended from the neck by a pair of strings fastened to the back of the ivory or pearl-shell and fastened to these strings, its ends being passed round the wearers torso to be tied behind his back, so that the breastplate did not swing and bounce against the chest during dancing or combat, the flailing neck ornaments beloved by the prancing tourist theatre “warriors” of Fiji being an anathema to Vitian predecessors attuned to the cocking of gun rather than camera locks.

Tabua in a traditional

function — Básunibi

Tabua that’s presented by the chief to the head of the fisher folks’ clan when the enclosure in which turtles are kept in captivity is opened so that the turtles can be used for a village function.


Tabua presented during a funeral visit but after the burial has taken place or presented to a particular vanua by someone who has been away for a long time.


Tabua presented by a woman’s relatives to her recently deceased husband’s relatives, asking for her return to them.

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