Kapkap tortoise shell, giant clam

Kapkap, 19th century

Unknown artist, expand_more

Kapkap were worn as pendants, and forehead or belt ornaments by men in the Solomon Islands. Worn in battle and at festivals, these ornaments symbolized personal wealth and status. The size and quality of a man's kapkap generally indicated his social status-the bigger the size, the more valuable it was. The white disk is ground from the shell of the Tridacna, a large sea clam, which was also used for money. The brown inner disk was carved from boiled tortoiseshell and attached to the other half of the ornament by a beaded string. The addition of beads further increased its value and prestige. Kapkap from the Solomon Islands were traded throughout Melanesia, and are still highly valued today for their beauty and use as exchange goods.

The openwork design on the largest kapkap represents a frigate bird, a popular symbol of strength. The design on the twentieth century kapkap may be purely decorative or may relate to the mataling, "eye of fire," found on other sculptures from the region.



Kapkap (#574)
7 1/2 in. (19.05 cm)
Accession Number
Curator Approved

This record is from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator, so may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email collectionsdata@artsmia.org.

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Kapkap tortoise shell, giant clam