Arm ornament

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Registration number
Item name
Arm ornament 
Indigenous name
Associated cultural group
Pacific > Melanesia unspecified
Captain Sydney Mercer-Smith 
Acquisition date
December 08, 1951 
Acquisition method
Donated by Mr Sydney Mercer-Smith 
Raw material
clam shell (Tridacna sp.)
H: 15 mm W: 95 mm L: D: 95 mm Circum:


Circular clam shell arm ornament; outer surface curved; small natural marks visible on the surface; shell is polished. Registration number 2175 marked with tag and pen.

Research notes

From the UQ Anthropology Museum exhibition ‘Solomon Islands: Re-enchantment and the Colonial Shadow’, a scholarly project curated by Diana Young in collaboration with research consultants Graham Baines, Annie Ross, Clive Moore and David Akin, August 2016 – June 2017.

Made of fossilised clam shell quarried from uplifted ancient coral reefs (ref G. Baines 07/04/2013).

Shell arm rings were worn and traded throughout the Solomon Islands. In Sa’a and Ulawa the flat plate arm rings were worn on the upper arm and used to crush the ribs of opponents in warfare, known as momo lalamoa or squeeze the victim (Ivens 1927:393). Another is the thicker, heavier arm ring with a concave outer surface. On Ulawa two of these arm rings called hato ime were worn by the older men with very little other ornamentation (Ivens 1927: 148).

Clamshell arm rings manufactured in Roviana (New Georgia) were prized by those as far as Santa Isabel, Choiseul, Shortland Islands and south Bougainville. Roviana people were known to have owned many axes, guns and whaleboats as a result of demand for their shell rings. Demand was constant due to their use for adorning skull houses of ancestors or to strengthen relationships of the living. Imitation arm rings made of tough porcelain were introduced by traders and put into circulation to meet the demand (Guppy 1887; Bennett 1987; Richards 2012).

Both Ivens (1927: 392) and Guppy (1887: 132) observed and described the laborious task of making the tridacna arm rings first by hewing a piece of shell from the clam, the thickest part at the hinge being the most prized, then shaping it with flint and brain coral.

Acquired as part of a large group of objects donated to the University’s Anthropology Museum by Mr Sydney Mercer-Smith. The objects were collected by his father Captain Sydney Mercer-Smith in the years 1893-1900 while he was employed as a Queensland government agent in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Captain Mercer-Smith worked on the Queensland labour trade vessels to oversee the recruitment of Islanders for work on the sugar plantations in Queensland [Mercer-Smith source file].

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