Object: Ear sticks

E/1955/6/150 a-b & E/1955/6/151 a-b
Ear sticks
Solomon Islanders
Melanesia: Malaita
ca. 1940s
Materials: Bamboo, glass beads, bone, textile & plant fibers

Pierced ears and ear decorations are common forms of personal adornment in the Solomon Islands. Both men and women traditionally have pierced ears and there are a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and types of ornaments used. Ear ornaments could be made from turtle shells, oyster shells, wood, seeds, bamboo, sharks teeth, bone, and more. People would have their ears pierced as children and would gradually increase the size of the piercing over time by using progressively larger ornaments. The missionary Walter Ivens described the methods he observed being used to pierce ears in the southeastern Solomon Island in the early 1900’s:

‘A piece of turtle-shell is bent into shape and clipped to the lobe. It eats its way through gradually and without much pain. Another way is to bore a hole with the bonito hook, te’i [tuna fish hook], but this gives pain. When the hole is once made, a piece of stick or a roll of leaves is inserted.’

On the island of Malaita a popular form of ear ornament is the ear stick, like those shown above from the Sam Noble Museum. The women traditionally make these ornaments for the men of the island to wear. They are made out of bamboo sticks that are carefully covered with woven designs using plant fibers from the yellow orchid and coconut palm. This type of ear ornament was generally worn for dances or special occasions rather than as everyday ornaments.

Other examples of this type of ear ornament can be found in the British Museum, the Macleay Museum,  the Auckland Museum, and others.

The following video shows a group of musicians from the island of Malaita performing at the Mini Festival of Melanesian Arts in Lifou, New Caledonia. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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