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Current time:0:00Total duration:3:36

Video transcript

we're in the gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that houses amazing works from Polynesia and we're looking at a necklace that dates to the early mid 19th century from Hawaii this is a spectacular necklace which incorporates these heavy bolts of very finely blotted and braided human hair and the decorative form at the bottom that curves upward is made from whale ivory both the hair and the ivory are very important materials here yes it's the materiality of the various elements of this necklace that really points to the deeper cosmological framework in which it operated the sperm whale tooth this ivory that it's pendant his car from is a relic of canal or canal or is the God that presides over the realm of the ocean than Juana and this is a top news base so when you're wearing this you're announcing your relationship to the god this was ceremonial regalia Chiefs wore these to assert their divine right to rule Chiefs really are deemed to have direct descent from gods and wearing the condense bone of the god that presides over the ocean and wearing the immaculately plaited finely braided hair of your ancestors creates this very powerful means of asserting your legitimacy in your right to rule and that pendant is spectacularly carved you can see how it tapers in gently and then flares out where it has this horizontal ridge and then it tucks down and up into this beautifully fluid upward curve and that curve is very thinly carved it looks fragile you can see that very fine rim it's so perfect it looks very much like a tongue this may have been a reference to oratory and it's the beginnings of a circle so if you'll imagine that this chief may well have been wearing a mahoney or a feathered helmet along with a feathered cape no doubt the mahoney or feather helmets include a raised crest which protected the head which is the seat of power and so curving down from the top it infer there's full circle in which the head of the chief is embedded and the contrast between these materials is so Stark yes we have the matte texture of the hair and then the luminous surface of the whale bone you could really see that it's a whale ivory it's a tooth of a sperm whale because of that creamy outer layer but then you can see this yellow YZ dentate core which runs down the central part of it and it almost reads like gold it's incredibly valuable whales were not hunted Islanders would wait until they beached on the reef whales are the embodiment or essence of the god of common law so we see this in a museum case and it's important to remember although we can admire this and look at it closely as an aesthetic object that it was something that was worn that had very specific meaning to those who looked at it and to the person who owned it and wore it these are heirlooms these are sacred treasures they were handed down through generations and they retained this power and vitality they're not static artworks they're really vital living objects which link us to the past you [Music]