Tabua Length 15 cm (6 inches) x 6.5 cm (2.5 inches) x 4.5 cm (1.75 inches). Very heavy massive thick old Sperm whale tooth.
Sinnet Cord 97 cm (38 inches)
Warm deep rich honey aged handled patina.

Large impressive refined presentation Tabua engraved with a name both sides.  The inscriptions (see photos) read in dyslexic letters KAKI (A is inverted in one & K on other has a tail) & may be indicative of age.

The tooth is dense and heavy with partially hollow gum nerve end. Highly rubbed &  polished and neatly bored across the pointed end to provide an anchor point through which to pass the coconut thread for making the four-element plaited sinnet. At the wide end, another hole has been bored for the attachment of the sinnet.



Polished tabua was often stained with cargo or tumeric to give it a deep orange colour. Alternatively this end result was obtained by smoking the tooth over a smouldering fire of sugar can or masawe roots. Once prepared the tooth was wrapped properly and put into a kato or basket with a polished stone called a "tina ni tabua". A plaited chord of coconut fibre or pandanus leaf was attached to each end of the tooth.

Before the sperm whales the early Fijians used tabua made from the buabua or kura tree. The tooth is prepared by being scraped clean, sanded with coral sand, oiled then polished with the leaves of the masi ni tabua tree.  When the whalers first visited Fiji, they brought ashore whale’s teeth to use for trading purposes. Fijians were struck by the similarity of these to the wooden bua-ta. The Fijians thus named them tabua, derivation from the Fijian word tabu (tar-MBOO) meaning sacred.

The tabua is obtained from the sperm or cacholot whale and plays an important role in Fiji ceremonies. They are presented to distinguished guests and are exchanged at betrothals, weddings, births, deaths, and when personal or communal agreements or contracts are entered into including the condoning of sinful act.  Traditionally, it is a great honor to be accorded with a tabua because of its sacredness and the value attached to it. It is an infringement of the Fijian law to take a tabua out of Fiji without expressed and written permission from the Ministry of Fijian Affairs.


A highly polished surface is today as much esteemed in a tabua but size, especially the thickness as judged when looking down directly over the tabua is the main criterion for its value.  While the tabua is a uniquely Fijian object, whale teeth are used in other societies.  European sailors used to carve and colour whale teeth in their spare time - this was called scrimshaw.  Whale teeth were shaped into necklaces and other ornaments in many parts of the Pacific, including Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, Hawai‘i and the Marquesas Islands.  Mäori also used whale teeth to make rei niho (whale tooth pendants) which were worn by people of high rank. However, nowhere else in the Pacific do whale teeth have the power or meaning of tabua in Fiji.

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Aboriginal, Papua New Guinea, Pacific Polynesian Islands, Maori & Oceanic Fine Tribal Art, Native Artefacts & Material Culture - Valuation, Appraisal, Sales and Purchase

Established Brisbane, Queensland Australia 1977

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