Superb large fret work plaque of tridacna gigas (giant clam shell) Figures depict spirit ancestor world.

Richards & Roga 2002 field work with local senior informants suggests that the ethnographic/collector descriptions of these Barava as grave markers deliberately broken in traditional mortuary ritual may be erroneous.  Barava  are now  identified as Land Title deeds. Yet to be deciphered is the iconography, as either a positive or negative image, which relates to statements of traditional land tenure delineation encoded in these barava and the source of this remarkable fret work genre.

Charles Woodford’s ethnographic field collection work in the Solomons, 1885-1914, could glean little explanation of the intrinsic ritual role for barava  from his informants, some five generations before Richards & Roga, other than some vague association with  mortuary huts and made by devils or unknown ancestor former occupants of the Islands? No hint of land title deed function.

Museum descriptions now are along the following lines;
Objects fashioned from the hard marble-like shell of the giant clam are prized by many Melanesian peoples. The art of working giant-clam shell
reached its apogee in the Solomon Islands. The most complex clam shell objects were barava, ornate openwork plaques created in the western
Solomon Islands. The designs on some barava are geometric, but many include stylized human figures interspersed with forms that resemble faces,
shown with spiral eyes and grinning mouths filled with minute teeth. Barava appear to have been associated with burial places and were reportedly used
to adorn structures housing the skulls of prominent men or slain enemies or placed on graves. In the past, some barava formed part of vovoso, powerful
charms carried in war canoes during headhunting expeditions to protect the crew and ensure success. Some were made as doors for the skull-houses of important ancestors and in general they were kept as symbols of a clan's claim to its land.

Barava tridacna plaques of many forms were probably used for a variety of purposes that may well have had regional variation and application for adjoining language groups.

Ceremonial and ritual context may also have morphed or lapsed over time. The main extraction quarry source of raw material semi fossilised tridacna in Ranongga, for the manufacture of barava is Mt. Kela and has been unused for generations.

By 1900 this barava had probably become a war trophy taken from a defeated clan that had lost in the head-hunting raids that proliferated following the introduction of foreign weapons, boats, and guns. Its theft intended by the victors to inflict further humiliation.

Large, early example cut from huge shell section. Fragmented with old and later repairs. Vella Lavella?
Height 32cm (12.5 inches) width 14cm (5.5 inches) depth at base 3.5cm (1.25 inches) weight 1.5kg (3 pounds 8oz).  
Ex. Palmer Family Collection Queensland.
Collection Dr Eric Lancrenon.
This Barava illustrated in  Lancrenon & Zanette. 2011.Tridacna gigas Objets de Prestige en Melanesie P 64 .

Richards, Rhys and Kenneth Roga 2004. Barava: Land Title Deeds in Fossil Shell from Western Solomons. Tuhinga, 15: 17-26. Te Papa Museum of New Zealand.
Woodford, Charles M., 'Notes on the Manufacture of the Malaita Shell Bead Money of the Solomon Group', Man, vol. 8, 1908, pp. 81-84.
Woodford, C. M., 1888. Exploration of the Solomon Islands. Journal of the  Royal Geographical Society (Proceedings), X:351-76 XII:393-418.


barava1  barava2

ex Palmer Family Collection

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