Object: Necklace

Tasmaloun Bay area of Vanuatu (formerly New Hebrides)
ca. 1944
Materials: Twine, seeds

This necklace was collected on the island of Espiritu Santo, in the island nation of Vanuatu in 1944. The beads of the necklace are made of “sea beans” and in some cultures are considered good luck charms. The term sea bean refers to any seed or fruit that is distributed by rivers or oceans. These seeds use natural currents to transport themselves great distances from their parent plant, where they hope to take root and grow. The seeds float because they are either less dense than water or, more often, have an inner air pocket that acts as a floatation device.

The museum catalog only describes these seeds as “sea beans” but we have attempted to narrow down the type of seed to two likely candidates based on shape, texture, and color. The first, and more likely possibility is the Matchbox bean (Entada phaseoloides) from Australia. Matchbox beans come from a flowering vine native to the Oceanic region. While most sources warn that these seeds are toxic, there is also evidence that they can be eaten as food when properly prepared. The second possibility, though from a geography standpoint it seems much less likely, is the Seaheart (Entada gigas) from Africa and South America. Seahearts, much like Matchbox beans also come from flowering vines and can be eaten if properly prepared though they are more often used for medicinal purposes.

Can you help us identify these seeds? Let us know what you know. Provide a comment to this weblog or via email to dcswan@ou.edu.

The following video highlights some of the contemporary culture on the island of Espiritu Santo.

[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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