Image Chief mourner's costume

TLF ID R1788

This is a mourning costume worn in the Society Islands (French Polynesia) in the late 1700s. It consists of an apron and a mask. It is made from pearl shell, wood and feathers, and was collected from the islands during Captain James Cook's second voyage into the Pacific.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset indicates that Cook revisited the Society Islands during his second voyage into the Pacific - he also spent time in this island group on his first voyage.
  • It is an example of the elaborate dress worn by the leading public mourner when a person of high status died - other mourners in the group would be naked apart from a maro (loincloth) and would smear themselves with soot, often adding red and white decoration over the soot.
  • It indicates that mourning in the Society Islands was ritualised and very costly - one pearl shell might cost the equivalent of a pig and the garment would have been time-consuming to make; in addition, the bereaved family had to accommodate and feed the mourners, and give them presents to compensate for time spent on their mourning duties.
  • It shows how intricate the construction of garments from the Society Islands was at this time - the apron consists of thousands of pieces of painstakingly cut pearl shell tied together with sennit (coconut fibre), and the mask is made from 11 pieces of shell, also bound together with sennit.

Other details

  • Content provider
  • Copyright holder
  • Organisation: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Remarks: Reproduced courtesy of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Publisher
  • Date of contribution: 27 Aug 2013
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia
  • Address: Melbourne VIC 3000 Australia
  • URL:
Access profile
  • Colour independence
  • Device independence
  • Hearing independence
Learning resource type
  • Image
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer - minimum version: 8.0 (MS-Windows) - maximum version: 9.0 (MS-Windows)
  • Firefox - minimum version: (MS-Windows)
  • Safari - minimum version: 5.1 (MacOS)
Operating systems
  • MacOS - minimum version: 10.6
  • MS-Windows - minimum version: XP - maximum version: 7
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements