Rope-mounted [sperm whale] teeth are important cultural objects throughout the Pacific. In New Zealand, the Maori know them as “rei puta”; such whale tooth pendants were rare objects because sperm whales were not actively hunted in traditional Maori society. Whale ivory and bone were taken from beached whales. In Fiji the teeth are known as tabua, traditionally given as gifts for atonement or esteem (called sevusevu), and were important in negotiations between rival chiefs. Friedrich Ratzel inThe History of Mankind reported in 1896 that, in Fiji, whales’ or cachalots’ teeth were the most-demanded article of ornament or value. They occurred often in necklaces. Today the tabua remains an important item in Fijian life. The teeth were originally rare in Fiji and Tonga, which exported teeth, but with the Europeans’ arrival, teeth flooded the market and this “currency” collapsed. The oversupply led in turn to the development of the European art of scrimshaw. –Wikipedia

Fiction Writing Prompt: Write a story or poem in which whale bone or ivory is an important symbol.

Journaling Prompt: Write about a family heirloom of jewelry that has been passed down to you and what it symbolizes.

Art Prompt: Scrimshaw

Non-Fiction / Speechwriting Prompt: Tell your audience the story of scrimshaw.

Photo Credit: kqedquest on Flickr

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