Contextualizing Objects in the Oberlin College Ethnographic Collection


The image to the left is an example of one type of helmet Gilbertese combatants used during battles. Although languages and practices varied on each Gilbert island, in the central islands this helmet was referred to as a Tebarantauti.6 It was made from a porcupine fish and was designed to protect the skull and ears of a fighter. The porcupine fish's tough skin and spines helped deflect swords and rocks during battles. The head of the fish was cut open wide enough to fit snuggly over a combatant's head. Conveniently, this allowed for the fish's fins to cover the ears of the person wearing it (the image provided displays the helmet on its side, but it would have been worn so the tail was sticking straight up). 

Headdress <br /><br />

Helmet made from a porcupine (blow) fish, used in battle in the Gilbert Islands. Collector: Unknown.

This is the other type of helmet created and worn in the Gilbert Islands. In the central islands it is called a Tebarantauti.7 It is made of tightly woven coir, a natural fiber made from coconut husks. The coir is bound together with human hair and twine. The helmet is typically about a 1/2 of an inch thick and is said to have been as stiff and sturdy as a strong board of wood.8


Helmet made from coconut fibers, used in warfare in the Gilbert Islands. Collector: Edward Church.