The Spirit of Tema

Breastplate (Tema, Tambe, or Tepatu), late 19th–early 20th century Santa Cruz Islands, Solomon Islands Tridacna shell, turtle shell, trade cloth, fiber; Diam. 7 3/8 in. (18.7 cm) The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1519)

The tema or kapkap are flat, round breast plates or disks made and worn as men’s chest or forehead ornament in the Solomon Islands. Tema is one of my favourite ornaments from the Melanesian region.

Tema from Malaita
Tema from Malaita. Public domain image.

I particularly like the tema because of its spiritual meaning,  its stunning appearance and temas take a long time to make, by hand. A A tema in the Melanesian culture is regarded as a spiritual object. They are worn as a protective shield during tribal warfare and for general well-being. The white part of the tema represents the moon. It is made from the giant clam shell. In the Santa Crus Islands, the traditional symbol of the frigate bird, shark or dolphin is intricately carved out of the turtle shell and embedded or attached to the clam shell base. The brown necklace is made from bark and bush ropes.

eaeb5cceef254b0a77ee580d3069e4a1 Photographer Victoria Ginn. Malaita man dressed with his tema.



10 thoughts on “The Spirit of Tema”

    1. Thank you very much for sharing Rika. Lovely to see you here. I don’t know to be honest. He may well be. 🙂 We are of many tribal groups, languages and customs in the Melanesia. I am happy to ask for you, but it may take some time to find out.


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