Elise et les iles de la Polynésie

SHELLS, When the Ocean becomes an adornment

Since many centuries, the SHELLS fit in the center of the Polynesian people continuous and cultural life. Work and assembled in a delicate manner, these SHELLS represent the adornments which the illuminated burst was underlined way before the arrival of the first European navigators. Today, Polynesian creators value this secular knowledge by the production of magnificent jewels and accessories.


The contemporary archeologists work illustrates an interesting statement based on the position of the SHELLS in the corporal decoration of the Polynesian oriental islands, a geographic area which included the Society of Archipelagos, the Marquesas Islands, also Hawaii and the Cook Islands. These fructuous researches were made inside archeological sites especially in the Marquesas Islands where the habitants fabricated corporal ornaments faster than in other Archipelagos. Thus sharpened, pierced and assembled SHELLS, put on coconut fiber links, Pandanus root or other natural fibers are labored and shaped since the immemorial times.


Strong sign of power and necessity

In the past, the SHELLS ornaments’ wearing was reserved to the chiefs, warriors and from a high rank, allowed to be invested with divine powers. The exterior appearance, fabulously distinguished themselves from other habitants.

The archeologists have found several jewels of theirs composed by diverse SHELLS (porcelain…) underlining the quality of this ancestral craftsman.

Chiefs’ necklaces, made with large pearl shell pendants were surprisingly elegantly done. Once polished, the oyster shell chose for its consequent size was fixed on a large braided hair necklace. Other necklaces were composed of several illumines golden reflects necklaces, strung on braided hair. Generally made with tens of fully little pearl shell, the necklaces could gather about thirty of these. Beside the necklaces other shell jewels have been found such as bracelets, leg ornaments and pearl shell pectoral tablets. The ceremonial adornment ended up being brightly dense.


Majestuous head-dresses

A particular importance was given to this hair style time in which the confection was put into the craftsmen expert hands masters. In the community, the women’s involvement was limited to the assembling of adornment made with vegetal supplies. To guarantee the splendor needed for the ceremonial ornamentation the craftsmen masters carried out a truthful work of art in which the shiny polished SHELLS were mixed to the lightness of the rooster’s feathers, duck’s, or budgerigar’s and the symbolic tortoiseshell.

Certain leaders, living in the Marquesas Islands, wore these headbands in filling of braided coconut heightened by a disk of some millimeters in thickness fixed to the front. This disk was obtained by a careful polishing of SHELLS such Cones, or mother-of-pearls. Pierced then decorated with furrows, its borders could be smooth or on the contrary notched. The warriors distinguished themselves as for them by the addition of long feathers in their frontal disk. The former Polynesian who granted a lot of importance for their headgears sometimes grazed themselves of real diadems in filling of coconut on which were joined patches slightly bent back by SHELLS and by scales of tortoises. On these sanded patches were engraved some Polynesian drives.

The inventiveness of the craftsmen masters, who worked SHELLS with an extreme precision allowed them to sand them in such a way they were shaping sperm whales teeth. From large Cassis SHELLS they obtained the best copies by cutting and smoothing its bent back lip part.


Noble material

The SHELL is a noble material of which colors and unsuspected reflection are an inexhaustible source of inspiration for the craftsmen. There are multiple varieties collected on beaches, in lagoons and on the Polynesian reefs. Often buried under the sand, these SHELLS in the gradations of red, grey, yellow, brown, green, white given luster are cleaned, polished and shaped to finally bring a colored touch and sophisticated in the craft creations. In front of this rich mix of colors, the creator can give free rein to his imagination and adapt himself to the envy of his customers.

The beauty of these SHELLS in the rough is nothing by comparison with what they will reveal once cleaned, polished and cut. Square, round, rectangular, oval, all the forms are possible, according to the need of the creative craftsman who looks for a completed harmony for its future adornment.


Accurate work

This one has to make thus at first a choice. He has to select the SHELLS which he will need for his future assembly. His inspiration occupies consequently a considerable position in this decisive choice. SHELLS are juxtaposed; their forms and their colors are accurately compared. A subtle marriage has to take place between every part, for which the craftsman has generally a real infatuation. The talent of a creative craftsman largely happens also because of his good knowledge of the various SHELLS.

Drilled, these SHELLS can be harmoniously assembled and possibly fixed to hats and craft supports. The craftsman jeweler arms himself then with his needle and fusses to assemble and to sew every pieces, every part of his future composition, with threads of cotton. Future composition which the assembly can either show itself relatively simple or impressively complex. The working hours or the craftsman vary with every realized model, especially since the craftsman carried by his inspiration can add SHELLS according to his envy. It is very often in this way that he makes complex adornments deserving of big contemporary jewelers.


Complexity and modernism

The originality is in the heart of this craftwork. Considering the inventiveness of the jewelers and the unique character of every SHELL, every jewel is exceptional. Certain customers sometimes meet to see the craftsman provide with drawings and sketch so that they reproduce in best their resentment. The sale prices thus vary strongly.

Although traditional, the Polynesian physical ornamentations evolved over the years. The craftsmen knew how to modernize them to adapt it to the new expectations of their customers. The classic necklaces in pencils (needles of sea urchins) are henceforth next to the adornments of oval and rectangular SHELLS assembled on colored ribbons.

Worn in a relaxed way or an evening dress, jewels in SHELLS submit themselves to no prohibition. Everything is allowed for them, next to the skin or on fabric, in the purified or complex lines, jewels go anyway conceivable.

Far from being reserved for the feminine race, men are too tempted by these ornaments.

The secular tradition does not thus establish a brake in the innovation and in the novelty for these complex ornaments, using and emphasizing the natural resources of the Polynesian Islands.

Tens of varieties of SHELLS used

A large variety of SHELLS (more than a hundred) is used by the craftsmen. Some of them, such as pearl SHELL, burgo and porcelains are frequently used in the composition of adornments. In order to create a necklace, several hundreds of SHELLS are generally used (for example, the classical yellow necklace: about 500 little SHELLS to make this usual necklace).

List of some SHELLS: whelk, cardita, conch, snail, oyster, mussel, trochus, stoup, porcelain. burgo, cones, seeds from the Marquesas Islands, pearls, keshis, mabe.

The mysterious powers of SHELLS

SHELLS possess mythological backgrounds told in the verbal tradition from time to time. These SHELLS, surrounded of supposed divine powers, were worshipped by the Polynesian of the ancient times. According to the legend, the gods sent them as messengers, carriers of inaccessible information by the common run of mortals. The human beings who wore them as earrings beneficed then from their oracles. Certain SHELLS delivered them in particular information on the spirits wandering on Earth.

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