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Tabua 1800 - 1953

Bone, fibre | 62 x 26 x 5 cm (whole object) | RCIN 74624

Grand Vestibule, Windsor Castle

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  • A tabua or presentation sperm whale tooth suspended by a cord of plaited sinnet at each end.

    In Fijian culture teeth are traditionally collected from the lower jaws of beached whales, and since whale beachings are a relatively rare occurrence, the teeth are highly prized. In some cases whales' teeth are rubbed with coconut oil and turmeric, or smoked, to turn them a rich tobacco colour.  When threaded on a cord, as here, they are known as tabua, and they play an important role in traditional ceremonies of marriage, mourning and peace-making.  Rather than being worn, they are exchanged by participants while formal speeches are made. They are also used by high-ranking chiefs to welcome guests on state occasions. 


    Presented to Queen Elizabeth II by Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba during her official visit to Fiji, 17–19 December 1953.

    On 17 December 1953 the SS Gothic sailed into the harbour at Suva, the capital of Fiji, bringing The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh to the region for the first time. In accordance with Fijian tradition, outrigger canoes from the surrounding islands escorted the liner to its anchorage. A delegation of chiefs led by Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba, premier chief of Lau, then came aboard to perform the ceremony of Veiqaravi Vakaturaga ('Chiefly Reception') and invite their visitors to land.  This tabua was presented at the moment of Cavuikelekele or 'pulling up of the anchor', accompanied by a formal welcome speech. Her Majesty's herald (matanivanua), sitting cross-legged on the deck (obscured by Ratu Tevita), received the tabua from her and made a formal speech to receive it on her behalf. His name was Ratu Rusiate Tauriwau.

    Several other tabua were also presented during the visit, including RCIN 60118 and RCIN 74625.

  • Medium and techniques

    Bone, fibre


    62 x 26 x 5 cm (whole object)

  • Alternative title(s)

    Presentation whale tooth

  • Place of Production