Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1927 Trobriand chief
Subject: chief
Culture: Trobriand Islander / Massim
Setting: Trobriand Islands late 19th - mid 20th c

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


* Pitt-Rivers Museum online > Spatulate club (1900.55.400)
​"According to Malinowski, such sword-clubs were widespread, although men carried them as an everyday item and never used them in pitched battles or out-and-out warfare, which was conducted in a very formal and organised way with spears and shields. Instead, clubs like this were the weapons of everyday skirmish and brawl. In a short article published in 1920 in 'Man', the journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Malinowski remarks that the principal provocations for disagreements between Trobriands men of the period were: arguments over garden boundaries, the ownership and wanderings of pigs, conflicts over the attentions and fidelity of women, breaches of formal etiquette, and the attacker's suspicion that the defender was a sorcerer - a common cause of conflict in many parts of the world [Malinowski, B. (1920) 'War & Weapons Among the Natives of the Trobriand Islands', Man, 20: 10-12]."


* Malinowski 1922 p42
​"A few more words must be said here about sorcery, as this is a matter of great importance in all inter-tribal relations.  The dread of sorcery is enormous, and when the natives visit distant parts, this dread is enhanced by the additional awe of the unknown and foreign.  Besides the flying witches, there are, in Dobu, men and women who, by their knowledge of magical spells and rites, can inflict disease and cause death.  The methods of these sorcerers, and all the beliefs clustering round this subject are very much the same as those in the Trobriands which we shall meet later on.  These methods are characterised by being very rational and direct, and implying hardly any supernatural element.  The sorcerer has to utter a spell over some substance, and this must be administered by mouth, or else burnt over the fire in the victim's hut.  The pointing stick is also used by the sorcerers in certain rites."


* Malinowski 1932 p256
"Their dress is of the slightest, especially for men, who wear only a pubic leaf.  This is a narrow band which covers the pubic regions, the lower part of the abdomen, and the back up to the first lumbar vertebræ.  The band is attached, front and back, to a belt.  Usually above this support the man wears another ornamental belt, made sometimes of valuable material.  The pubic leaf is very carefully adjusted, so that the limited area which modesty demands should be hidden remains always precisely and carefully covered."


* Malinowski 1922 p52
"They wear the same classes of ornaments as the other Massim, consisting mainly of of fibre armlets and belts, earrings of turtle shell and spondylus discs, and they are very fond of using, for personal decoration, flowers and aromatic herbs."

​* Malinowski 1932 p257
"The natives adorn themselves with wreaths of aromatic blossom; put flowers, especially the red hibiscus, in their hair, and aromatic herbs or long leaves and streamers into their armlets.  Necklaces of shell and wild banana seed are worn, and armlets on the upper arm.  All men and women wear ear-rings and belts.
    "The body, as distinguished from the face, is very seldom painted, and no tattoo markings are ever visible."


* Geary ed. 2006 p96 (William E. Teel w/ Christraud M. Geary and Stéphanie Xatart, "Catalogue" p36-151)
​Among the most valued objects of the Massim region are war shields from the Trobriand Islands, which Westerners collected as early as the 1890s. The foreigners were particularly entranced by the delicate, carefully organized designs painted on their flat surfaces. ... Scholars have proposed multiple interpretations of the intricate designs. Recent research suggests that many of the complex motifs represent insects, fish, or serpent shapes, which symbolically allude to prowess in war."

​* Museum of Fine Arts > Arts of Oceania
"[...] The art of the Trobriand Islands is mostly two-dimensional, with painted or carved designs often covering an object's entire surface. The patterns on all Trobriand shields are similar and have specific meanings." ...

​* Meyer 1995 vII p148 f144
"Few ... painted shields are known.  They were obviously reserved for the use of powerful high-ranking warriors.  The decor has been analysed at great length but with little success.  There is reason to believe that the relatively stereotyped motifs are magical images intended to strengthen the owner and frighten the enemy."