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Today we head to the other side of the world to check out a very special mollusk— the black lip oyster (Pinctada margaritifera). This oyster is a suspension feeder which thrives in tropical coral seas amidst the colorful darting fish, exquisite anemones, and amazing biodiversity of reef life. The black lip oyster lives from the Persian Gulf, throughout the northern Indian Ocean across the IndoPacific divide up to Japan and around the islands of Micronesia, and Polynesia. However it is not the oyster’s (enviable) lifestyle that makes it famous, but what it produces –Tahitian pearls aka black pearls.

Tahitian pearls are one of the four great categories of cultured pearls. They occur in a rainbow variety of colors but mostly are charcoal, silver, or dark green with an iridescent sheen of green, purple, silver, blue, or gold. Since the black lip oyster is an exceedingly large mollusk, which can grow to weight of more than 4 kilograms (8-10 pounds), it can produce a capacious harvest of cultured pearls and can also produce extremely large pearls. The name black pearls is evocative and poetic and descriptive (since the pearls are dark), however true black Tahitian pearls are rare and precious.

When I was growing up in southwest Ohio, far from the beach, I remember encountering all sorts of stories concerning black pearls–thrilling tales of pearl divers, pirates, mermaid, giant Manta rays and such-like exoticism of a past era–however seemingly the internet, globalized commerce, and industrial aquaculture have taken some of the luster from these bright dreams (or do preadolescents still have feverish conversations about black pearls?). Maybe that was all because of the eighties and that decades taste for the darkly exotic and colorful….yet whatever the tastes and tides of fashion, I still find black pearls remarkably beautiful, and I would like to seek out some crowns and myths for you to adorn Ferrebeekeeper’s mollusk category. Hopefully I can avoid being cursed by a manta ray spirit (which, in retrospect, sounds beautiful and gentle)…but I promise nothing!

The Crown of the Kingdom of Tahiti

The Crown of the Kingdom of Tahiti

The Kingdom of Tahiti was founded when the chieftain Pōmare unified the islands of Tahiti, Moʻorea, Tetiaroa, Mehetia with help from the famous Captain Cook (and his vastly superior weapons and ships).  British missionaries and tradesmen subsequently helped Pomare and his heirs consolidate authority over the islands (in exchange for certain concessions and favors).  When King Pōmare III ascended to the throne in 1824, the London Missionary Society presented this crown to the monarch for use at the coronation. The somewhat unprepossessing crown of King Pōmare III is velvet and gilded metal. Though not especially regal, the royal headdress is at least very clearly labeled as the crown of Tahiti.  When the French outfoxed the British and claimed suzerainty over the islands, the kings and queens of Tahiti lost influence and were forced to abdicate in 1880.  Since then the crown of the Kingdom of Tahiti has become a museum piece and, indeed, it can today be found in the “Musée de Tahiti et des Îles” in Punaauia (should you inexplicably wish to see it).

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Ye Olde Ferrebeekeeper Archives

March 2023