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Body armour

The coral islands of Kiribati (‘kee-ree-bass’) have limited natural resources but pandanus plants and coconut trees are plentiful and versatile. The coarse fibres from coconut husks provided the raw material needed to make rigid and elaborate armour, such as this helmet (te baratekora) and cuirass. The coconut fibre was combed and hand-spun to produce a strong cord that was braided and woven together. Battle was regulated and used to settle disputes. It was highly ritualised and involved magic and fasting. Warriors wearing the armour believed themselves to be invincible. Their armour was decorated with abstract designs, such as the diamonds here which may represent dolphins. The amour protected the wearer from severe gashing caused by shark-tooth swords and spears. Early European visitors observed islanders with numerous scars on their arms and legs. The raised back of the armour saved warriors from the effects of stones thrown at them from behind. Originally acquired by Commander Henry Harris, Royal Navy, of Bovey Tracey who died in 1893.

Arms and armour

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Shield

Made of softwood. The flat reverse side with its aperture in the middle for the hand, is decorated with longitudinal bands of red and white paint.

Arms and armour

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