Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1840 Kiribati warrior 
Subject: warrior
Culture: Kiribati Micronesian
Setting: tribal conflict, Gilbert & Ellice / Kingsmill Islands (Kiribati) mid 19thc.

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Amadio/Tristram 1993 p75
"The people of Kiribati proudly believe their own martial arts were the forerunners of and the blueprint for the other great schools of martial arts that evolved later in Asia, including the Japanese Samurai martial arts and the Chinese Kung Fu.  Kiribati legends say that their great hero Teraaka introduced and spread the Tungaru martial skills to other  countries."  [CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION: How would this be possible if these were not deep-seafaring people, and if their culture evolved centuries after the rise of Japanese and Chinese martial traditions?]

* Viola/Margolis eds. 1985 p211 caption (E Jeffrey Stann, " Charles Wilkes as diplomat" p205-226)
"Kingsmill warriors, drawn by Agate. In the Kingsmill or Gilbert Islands (now the republic of Kiribati), the squadron [of the United States Exploring Expedition] had to contend with a war party such as this armed with weapons edged with shark teeth and protected by cocoa [SIC: coconut]-fiber vests.  After a pleasant visit to the town of Otiroa on Drummond Island (Tabiteuea), the hospitality of the natives turned to treachery as one of the sailors of the Peacock disappeared.  The kidnapping triggered an attack by the U.S. Navy."


* Stone 1934 p66
"Few of the natives of the South Pacific used armor. The Kingsmill Islanders are an exception as they occasionally wore armor woven of coconut fibre cord.  This was necessary as their weapons were generally edged with shark's teeth.  This armor covered the body and occasionally the arms and legs.  It had a wide flap at the back that curved up and forward protecting the back of the head.  This guard for the back of the head was to protect it from the misdirected efforts of the women of the party who followed the men into the fight throwing stones at the enemy."

* Meyer 1995 v2 p610
"Fighting was essentially internal since many of the cultures were not great seafarers.  In Kiribati, and reportedly further west in the Carolines as well, a unique form of woven coconut-fiber body armor was worn as protection against a deadly type of weapon studded with shark's teeth."

* Los paraísos perdidos 2007 p42
"En Kirivati eran muy comunes los duelos entre guerreros y el combate estaba ritualizado.  No obstante eran muy frecuentes y podían extenderse a varias generaciones en una venganza continúa.  Exclusivo de este archipelago era el uso de una armadura y una panoplia de armas confeccionadas con dientes de tiburón: espadas, cuchillos, lanzas, destinadas tanto para el combate como para el adiestramiento de los guerreros.  La armadura les cubría todo el cuerpo y estaba realizada en fibra vegetal trenzada, generalmente de nuez de coco verde, formando una malla muy tupida.  Se componía de pantalones, coraza y mangas.  La cabeza, sagrada para estos pueblos, se protegía con cascos realizados con la coraza del Diodon."

* Arts of the South Seas 1946 p69-70
"The Gilbert Islanders were the most warlike of the Micronesians and were famous for their vicious weapons made of coconut wood and edged with shark teeth.  As defense against these they had developed complete body armor consisting of a sort of union suit woven from heavy strands of coconut fiber, a corselet and helmet.  This armor not only protected the wearer but also served to catch and break the teeth on his antagonists' weapons.  In battle each armored man was accompanied by one or more unarmored squires who acted as skirmishers until the battle was joined, then stood behind their armored lord to pass him new weapons as needed."

* Feest 1980 p84 f95
"To protect themselves against the ugly wounds inflicted by their shark tooth weapons (particularly the long wooden spears and pole arms), warriors on the Gilbert Islands used to wear heavy armour made from coconut-fibre and helmets either of the same material or cut from globefish skin. Being restricted in their movement and easily tired by the weight of their protective garment, an assistant had to direct and hold the fighter from the back."

* Kaeppler 2008 p132-133
"To shield themselves, warriors wore helmets made of the skin of porcupine fish with quill-like spines, knotted coconut-fibre leggings/pants, and body armour that covered the torso and had an additional head-and-neck protective shield that rose from the back of the armour.  The body armour was finely woven of coconut fibre and decorated with human hair in designs often based on diamonds.  The backshield was especially important for protection from flying stones."

* Geary ed. 2006 p135 (William E Teel w/ Christraud M. Geary & Stéphanie Xatart, "Catalogue" p36-151)
"In Kiribati, where, during the era of island warfare in the nineteenth century, men wore heavy protective suits and head guards made from thick coils of sennit, a threat produced from coconut fiber. [SIC]"


* Bruyninx/van Damme 1997 p101
"Zwaarden (rere, betia) werden op Kiribati in het zuidoosten van Micronesië onder meer gebruikt in de strijd tussen verschillende verwantengroepen.  Op deze voormalige Gilbert-eilanden zouden relatief geringe conflicten reeds aanleiding hebben gegeven tot vetes die generaties lang konden blijven bestaan.  Ook tussen de eilanden onderling werd strijd geleverd.  Tevens trok men op oorlogstocht naar het naburige Polynesische Tuvalu (voorheen de Ellice-eilanden)."

* Kaeppler 2008 p132
"In Micronesia, warfare was usually the result of political rivalry, revenge for murder, and disputes over land and women.  The most fearsome warriors, from Kiribati and Nauru, wielded shark-tooth-edged spears and hand weapons of various styles and lengths."

* Wilkinson 1978 p144
"In the Gilbert Islands the inhabitants fashioned tebutje, which were clubs to which were attached a number of sharks' teeth.  Sharks' teeth were used for making short 'teeth' daggers as well as long, three bladed 'sword' clubs."

* Allen 1996 p127caption
"Gilbert Islanders brandish swords studded with sharks' teeth.  Pacific islanders fashioned several types of weapons using shark teeth.  Islanders in the photo are wearing helmets of porcupine fish skin and coir armor."

* Stone 1934 p608
"TEBUTJE.  The shark tooth 'swords' of the Gilbert Islanders ... are light clubs with shark's teeth lashed to the sides."