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Regional News

The beauty and meaning of island jewelry

THE art of the Caroline Islands includes carving canoes and images of spirits to protect travelers at sea. There are also charms for fishing and fertility as well as elaborate paintings of male and female figures in clubhouses.

Micronesian culture also includes history, clothing, beliefs, food and customs.

In Palau, there are carvers of storyboards, weavers and makers of custom shell jewelry.

But probably the most noticeable aspect of Palauan culture is the people’s connection to the sea — the source of their livelihood.

They have developed a close relationship with the waters of Palau, and are familiar with the currents, the phases of the moon and even the behavior of the fish.

In order to show social status, women wear “udoud” money necklaces and turtle shell bracelets. Another delicately carved and shaped turtle shell ornament is a small, shallow dish called “toluk.” This dish was regarded as a form of money and was paid to women for their family obligations and services. Primarily using turtle shell and seashells, craftsmen carved and shaped their materials into a variety of uniquely formed items.

Melisa David Somorang, one of Micronesia’s February beauties, proudly wears local costume jewelry designed by her cousin, Eric Kintoki.

On Guam, turtle shell is used for necklaces and belts.

Guampedia is the source of the following information:

The ancient Chamorro prized turtle shell and used it in many ways. There were variations of the plain turtle shell plates or lailai. Lailai with holes cut into them were called pinipu. Each hole signified an increase in value. Maku dudu were lailai polished on both sides that were worn around the waists of particularly wealthy women and fastened by means of a double cord.

“Guini” and “lukao hugua” refer to turtle shell necklaces made of flat, round and perforated disks strung on coconut fiber. The highly prized “guinahan fama’guon” were shell disks of varying thickness worn draped around the neck on special occasions.

As Guam lawyer and author Julian Aguon put it, shell money was “an item entangled in complex webs of sensitive social relations.” He said “its main use in society was ceremonial, spanning the whole of the social horizon from offerings at funerals to payments for special and religious services; from servings as gifts at wedding celebrations to gestures of reconciliation in times of conflict and warfare.”