A Woman's Valuable, Toluk

Palau Islands, Micronesia, Pacific

Late 19th/Early 20th Century

Belauan People

Width 20 cm Depth 13 cm (8 x 5.25 in)

The turtle shell tray is a treasured part of the wealth of a woman and is given from one woman to another as a gift on an important occasion such as a birth or marriage or as thanks for help, for instance in the preparation of a feast. The dish or toluk is carefully preserved and may easily pass through many generations of women acquiring a rich, glossy patina.

The giving and receiving of prestige objects is an important part of a number of so-called primitive cultures around the world and is a very effective way of building up social obligations. Although men and women in Belauan culture give and receive different and specific objects, their accumulation is recognised as part of the wealth of a family and their ritual offering between people in turn leads to stability within the society; the giver gains standing by their generosity and the receiver gains wealth by the possession of the object.

To form the dish a single carefully selected plate of the turtle shell is soaked in hot water to soften it. When it is malleable, it is placed in a two part wooden mould which is tied together and further heated to press the shell to the shape of the mould; the whole is then hardened in cold water and when ready is removed from the mould.

Museum Collections:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, for a similar example

1504
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