Forensic Fashion
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>Costume Studies
>>1869 Solomon ngwane ramo

Subjectngwane ramo warrior chief
Culture: Solomon Islander
Setting: slave raiding, tribal warfare, Solomon Islands mid 19th-early 20thc

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

* Varilaku 2011 p16 (Crispin Howarth, "Land, people and spiritual environment" p14-32)
"During the nineteenth and early twentieth century communities were ruled by chieftains, with every chief actively attempting to dominate other communities through political strategy -- forging alliances through arranged marriages -- as well as through bloodshed.  Each community also had a number of sorcerers and religious men, who worked to communicate and harness the magical energies of ancestral ghosts, and to use both benevolent and malevolent magic to control the weather, heal illnesses and divine success in community-focused events such as fishing and warfare."

* Varilaku 2011 p20 (Crispin Howarth, "Land, people and spiritual environment" p14-32)
"[H]ead-hunting expeditions (called geto in the Marovo Lagoon area of New Georgia) across large expanses of open water were a seasonal activity restricted mainly, but not always, to November and December when the seas were usually the calmest, making the crossing from New Georgia to Santa Isabel, Choiseul or Malaita less dangerous.  The acquisition of human heads was the primary goal of such expeditions, although men, women and children were also taken alive.  These captives were made to labour in their capturers' village and often, in the case of children, were adopted into the community.
    "A head-hunting expedition could take up to two weeks to complete a round trip, and distances between the raiding parties and their quarry became greater during the nineteenth century.  The inhabitants of nearby islands who could no longer defend themselves were wiped out or moved further inland, away from the coast, for the protection afforded by the hills.  Cheyne records that, as early as 1844, New Georgians would travel upwards of 100 miles on raiding expeditions; Woodford also noted the great distances involved, with head-hunting consuming whole populations.  'The chief hunting-ground at present time being the two islands of Choiseul and Ysabel, 90 to 100 miles away, which, however, are becoming somewhat "worked out".'"

* Thomas 1995 p88-89
"Head-hunting was ... extensively practised in the western Solomon Islands, particularly by the inhabitants of New Georgia and Simbo, who preyed upon those of other islands such as Santa Isabel and Choiseul.  Although some fighting was motivated by offenses committed by enemy groups, the idea of revenge was not generally significant; heads were required more for the inauguration of new canoes and canoe houses and to release the widows of chiefs from mourning.  The positions of powerful men in the Solomons depended very much on their accomplishments: those of great renown were successful organizers of head-hunting and trading expeditions, if not necessarily great warriors themselves.  They succeeded in attracting wealth in the form of shell rings, which they deployed in the staging of feasts, supporting dependants [SIC], building new houses and canoes, and purchasing war captives, who were virtually adopted but nevertheless compelled to work in gardens or in akind of ritualized prostitution that enabled their chiefs to accumulate further supplies of shell money."

* Mytinger 1942 p52
"The first taboo is, naturally, against raiding, and individual homicides, whether ethical or attending a feud. And who enjoys a feud more than a feudist? Raiding is a form of sport, something going on in an otherwise dull world."

* Varilaku 2011 p21 (Crispin Howarth, "Land, people and spiritual environment" p14-32)
​"The iron axe-head and rifle created dynamic shifts in kastom and chiefly politics, and New Georgian head-hunting became better organised.  Several communities would work together, forming alliances to create powerful raiding forces that would be difficult for an individual village to repel.  As raids became bigger and more devastating, a cycle of repetitious warfare became a grim reality.  Revenge was enacted through counter-attacks on the New Georgian aggressors by expeditions from Choiseul and Santa Isabel, which in turn had acquired firearms."

* Keesing 1982 p19 (describing Kwaio society)
"Killings were also precipitated by curses, insults, thefts, and confrontations.  There was always a danger of violence where male pride and honor, and the glorification of violence and homicide, encouraged escalation.
    "The type-roles of secular leadership reflected this pattern.  The lamo (ramo in other Malaita languages) was an intimidating warrior, a bounty hunter and executioner (often of the weak and defenseless).  In contrast, entrepreneurial leaders ... not only mobilized wealth in Melanesian big-man fashion, but kept peace within the group and, as best possible, between groups."

* Mytinger 1942 p215-216
"Until the government got the coast villages under control a few years ago every possible occasion was used as an excuse to lop off a few more heads.  It never made any difference whose heads gave prestige to a christening; both friends and enemies unwillingly contributed their heads to the mana at the launching of a new war canoe; heads were so greatly in demand that there were even gangs of professional headhunters, something like our Chicago murder gangs.  They supplied, at a price, freshly cut heads for any event, not making any delicate distinction between sexes, ages, nor totem alliances.
    "The explanation of this head cult is that here the spirit -- all that is strong and immortal in man -- dwells in the skull.  Thus a chief, when he died, was fortified in the hereafter by the company of anywhere from fifty to a hundred strong immortal spirits."


* Brunt/Thomas/Mallon/Bolton/Brown/Skinner/Küchler 2012 p189 caption (Lissant Bolton, "Incursions: Loss, continuity and adaptation 1840-1900" p186-217)
"Guns were acquired in considerable numbers from the 1870s on, once Solomon Islanders began working as migrant labourers in Fiji, Samoa, New Caledonia, and above all Queensland."

* Varilaku 2011 p21 (Crispin Howarth, "Land, people and spiritual environment" p14-32)
"[An] important development was the introduction of the Snider-Enfield carbine rifle as an item of trade.  Firearms had been desirable acquisitions throughout the nineteenth century, but the chiefs had found muskets and other types of rifles difficult to maintain and use compared to the shorter and lighter carbine rifle.  An influx of more readily usable firearms in the 1860s and 1870s, supplied by undiscerning traders, made raiding expeditions even more profitable ventures."

* Brunt/Thomas/Mallon/Bolton/Brown/Skinner/Küchler 2012 p188 (Lissant Bolton, "Incursions: Loss, continuity and adaptation 1840-1900" p186-217)
"Muskets and gunpowder, Snider rifles and ammunition had been sold in considerable numbers, but the supply of these by English traders had been banned by the nascent British administration: traders operating under other national flags continued to trade firearms.  Rifles were also decorated with shell inlay.  Weapons, whether wood, stone or metal, were and are cherished by their owners, as these adaptations demonstrate."


* Varilaku 2011 p

* Brunt/Thomas/Mallon/Bolton/Brown/Skinner/Küchler 2012 p225 (Lissant Bolton, "Transformations 1890-1940" p218-243)
"As well as marking gender, clothing might convey an individual's kinship affiliations, marital status, ritual achievements, place of origin, rank or role.  As Ben Burt observes about Malaita:
Formerly, in 'traditional times' ... Malaitans dressed in very little, but on special occasions they ornamented their bodies with fine and valuable objects.  They put on bands and combs patterned with bright red and yellow fibres, rings, pins and pendants of glistening white shell and pearlshell and straps of valuable red, white and black money beads and dolphin teeth, and coloured and scented leaves.  By this means they presented themselves as youths and maidens, husbands and wives, men of possessions, priests, warriors and worthy heirs to the ancestral ghosts whose festivals they dressed to celebrate."
The point of indicating one's identity through ornamentation, especially at festivals, is partly to do with the volume of people from the surrounding region who might be participants in such an event.  People who rarely saw each other on a day-to-day basis could read from each other's clothing what their status was, noting changes that might have occurred since they last met."​


* Varilaku 2011 p7 (Sir David Attenborough, "Foreword" p7)
"They ... wore dramatic jewelry -- elaborate decorative combs in their hair, armlets constructed from small shell discs each of which was pierced using a bow drill and polished with sand and sharkskin.  Important men displayed their rank with kapkaps, roundels of turtleshell, backed by a clamshell disc and cut into filigree designs of astonishing delicacy and accuracy."

* Thomas 1995 p90-91
"Shells and shell rings of various kinds were conspicuous in personal ornaments, exchange and ritual in New Georgia and through most of the Solomon Islands.  The ornaments included kapkap, intricate openwork tortoiseshell patterns occasionally including human or bird figures, which were also produced further west, in New Ireland and the Admiralty Islands.  Shell rings of high grades were associated with deities and ancestral power, and were presented at shrines, often to ensure good crops, good fishing or successful head-hunting; others were less sacred and were given to warriors and craftsmen in reward for taking heads or producing certain articles, and also used somewhat more like currency in exchange for pigs, ornaments, foods and various other goods.  Although the shell used in shell money is quite different to the nautilus used extensively in the decoration of wooden objects, and although there is little in the rather disappointing ethnographic sources that indicates what significance was attached to the latter, it seems clear that shell was generally associated very strongly with value and that value was grounded in exchange and predatory activities -- fishing and head-hunting -- at sea.  Large-scale ceremonies either prepared for or celebrated major expeditions, and successful head-hunting or slave-raiding journeys were rewarded by others who danced and threw shell valuables onto the sand as a canoe returned with captives and heads."

* Racinet 1988 p44
"An Arossien, from San Cristobal in the Solomon Islands. A warrior tribe, equipped with bows and arrows, spears and bludgeons, the Arossiens often pierced their noses and hung ornaments, such as parrot feathers, from them. Here the hair is tied up with a bamboo comb and decorated with fringes that hang down on either side of the parting. The bracelets and belt are made from white, red and black beads of shell, and are used as currency."

* Varilaku 2011 p48 (Crispin Howarth, "The works" p43-119)
"The young and unmarried of both sexes paid great attention to their personal appearance, bachelors especially grooming themselves to appear more alluring to women.  Through adornment the wearer's wealth and community standing were also indicated. Only the strongest or most influential could afford to wear certain esteemed ornaments."

* Mytinger 1942 p46 (describing a Malaita native)
"There was a thin fan of hair extending out above one ear, stiff enough to have been wire.  The fan was real hair but the color was synthetic.  The legend of light-haired Negroids vanished before our savvy knowledge of Hollywood blondes.  This hair had been bleached.
    "That fan of hair adn the 'cock-a-rocka' tail feather were contradictorily explained to use later by different authorities who saw the picture.  One said the fan was a symbol of an ethical murder, and another said the cock-a-rocka feather was it.  Whichever it was, it was a despised 'fashion belong bush.'  Both authorities were savvy salt-water boys who said the bushman had to kill a man before he could wear these emblems of courage.  The villages would laugh into exile the man who could not win them by killing someone -- anyone."


* Varilaku 2011 p79 (Crispin Howarth, "The works" p43-119)
​"Slender ritual batons ..., historically connected to the identity of the Solomon Islands and originating from southern Malaita, are known by several names, including wari-haufou'atoleelo and hau aano rereo.  A typical ritual baton is decorated along its entire length with inlaid shell ....
    "... Worn suspended from the back of the neck, with the stone section at the top, the batons indicated that a man had successfully committed homicide either in warfare or as a hired assassin."

Long Clubs

​* Burton 1890 p44
"The savage Solomon Archipelago has supplied a two-handed sabre of light and bright-yellow wood; its longitudinal width shows direct derivation from the paddle-club."

* Benitez/Barbier 2000 p228
"[The] 'club shield' (roromaraugi) ... has a protuberance, though it is not known whether this enhanced the defensive qualities of the weapon, was simply intended to give additional weight or served as a counterbalance.  At the end of the pointed handle crouches a little figure with a long headdress, similarly pointed, who looks backwards.  This figure reappears on spears and possibly represents an ancestor or one of the innumerable guardian spirits who reigned over men.
    "In 1928-29, the Swiss author Eugen Paravicini took photographs of such shields during a field trip for what is now the Museum der Kulturen, Basel.  Paravicini stated categorically that this type of weapon was used only on San Cristobal, where none of the more classic shapes of shield are known.  He added that spears were the only offensive weapons employed during combat; javelins and the bow and arrow were used solely for hunting."

* Varilaku 2011 p85
"Commonly known by the name roromaraugi (a word from Ugi Island), clubs like these were used on Makira (San Cristobal) Island in the south-east of the Solomon Islands.  Carved from a dense heavy wood, they were effective offensive and defensive weapons, for they could deliver a withering, fatal blow, or be used to parry thrown spears.  Just above the spiked tip of the club's shaft is a crouching figure ....  The figure on each of the clubs has a jutting face, flexed legs, and at the back the head sports a hairstyle commonly found in eastern Solomon Islands sculpture.  According to Deborah Waite, these clubs were a form of social definition, placing their owners in a recognised place within their community."

Short Clubs

* Burton 1890 p44
"There is also a lozenge-shaped hand-club, which may readily have given a model to metal-workers. It is of hard, dark, and polished wood, and the handle is whipped round with coir; the length is seventy cent. by four of maximum breadth."


* Brunt/Thomas/Mallon/Bolton/Brown/Skinner/Küchler 2012 p188 caption (Lissant Bolton, "Incursions: Loss, continuity and adaptation 1840-1900" p186-217)
"In the Solomon Islands, metal axes were adapted to incorporate European blades by the mid-nineteenth century and often hafted and decorated in local styles."

* Varilaku 2011 p20-21 (Crispin Howarth, "Land, people and spiritual environment" p14-32) 
​"It was introduced European trade goods that set in motion decades of escalated head-hunting conflict.  From as early as 1844, iron axe-heads were hafted onto long shafts to make very effective weapons described as 'tomahawks', which quickly destroyed any balance of power.  Whole villages could be ransacked, more heads than ever before could be acquired, and more captives taken and put to work, increasing the power base of the victorious raiding communities.  Axes assisted in the quicker creation of more war canoes, enabling raiding parties to be doubled or trebled in size.  This in itself created further impetus for head-hunting, for the consecration of a war canoe sometimes involved the dedication of a head."

* Brunt/Thomas/Mallon/Bolton/Brown/Skinner/Küchler 2012 p188 (Lissant Bolton, "Incursions: Loss, continuity and adaptation 1840-1900" p186-217)
"Axes and axe heads were acquired not only for cutting down trees but also for despatching enemies.  Again, these objects were incorporated into both existing regimes of use and existing aesthetic systems.  Metal axe heads were set upon the same kind of wooden handle as had been used for stone axe blades.  In the Western Solomon Islands the hafting of metal axe blades onto handles was sometimes elaborated with carved and shell-inlaid images.  The Australian Museum holds such a decorated metal-bladed axe, acquired in 1884, which incorporates an image of a frigate bird head.  In this area, metal axe blades were especially prized for headhunting raids."


* Thomas 1995 p92
"[S]hell ... is conspicuous in much other Solomon art, notably in rare shields decorate with elaborate inlay.  The fragility of these pieces has led commentators to suggest that they must have been reserved for ceremonial uses, but it is surely possible that the situation of fighting was precisely that moment at which a powerful man would want to display and project his wealth -- bearing in mind that wealth was not a secular value but was recognizable as an expression of magical efficacy and potency.  Once again, therefore, and aesthetic of intimidation was in play."

* Metropolitan Museum of Art 1987 p42
"The standard war shields of the western Solomon Islands were of wicker woven over cane strips, elliptical in shape.  It seems that they were manufactured on Guadalcanal and exported to the other islands.  The majority were plain or, at most, had a few designs in black paint.  A small number of shields -- perhaps under two dozen -- exist that are painted completely and encrusted with hundreds of tiny squares of luminous nautilus shell, which form designs representing a figure and several faces.  All these decorated shields seem to have been made in the 1840s-1850s.  In view of their fragility, it seems unlikely that they were used in combat.  A function as status symbols for men of high rank is more probable."

* Meyer 1995 vII p404 f453
"Wickerwork shields covered with an inlaid nautilus shell decor are exceedingly rare; only about 20 have so far entered the collections.  These shields seem all to have been made within the same time span (1840-50) and geographical area (Florida and Santa Isabel Islands).  Apart from the fact that they were the property of high-ranking individuals, we know almost nothing about them.  They may have been symbols of authority which were used purely as ceremonial items, and not in actual warfare."  

* Pitt Rivers Museum online > Basketry shield (1895.22.196)
"Wicker fighting shields were only made in certain places in the Solomon Islands and were sold on to other islanders. ....
    "Lieutenant Boyle Somerville, the British naval officer who collected this object while in the region from 1893 to 1894, observed that 'the handhole is often further protected by a piece of turtle shell, or several pieces of large leaf, stuck between it and the back of the shield'. Somerville also noted that such shields were of considerable value and were 'exceedingly difficult to procure' by the end of the nineteenth century, being traded only for a large whale tooth or sovereign."