The Tooth of a sperm whale is a prized possession in Fiji. Such a tooth is known as a tabua and is a gift presented to the bride’s family by the groom’s family. The tabua translates to “sacred” in Fijian and it is linked with good luck and supernatural powers and is widely used in marriages in this nation that boasts of over 300 islands. The tooth can vary in size from the length of a hand to the length of a forearm and can weigh around three pounds

Sperm whales belong to endangered species

New York Times reports that the number of tabuas circulating in Fiji is on the decline, hence, whatever little is available comes at a premium.

A single tooth strung with a braided cord as an oversize pendant on a necklace can set back the buyer by thousands of dollars. The shortage is attributed to a drop in the harvesting of these sperm whales due to the enactment of laws to protect them because they are an endangered species.

Fijians place a high value on these items but they do not hunt the whales themselves. They procure them from whales that the people of Tonga hunt but this also was banned in 1978 by a royal decree.

In order to save the sperm whales, Fiji signed a global treaty that put a restriction on international trade in endangered species and their parts and the list included sperm whale teeth. Of course, some Fijians have discovered an alternative and they look out for dead sperm whales that wash up on the beaches and extract the teeth.

The tooth is a prized possession

In spite of the high cost of the tabua, it is ingrained in the culture of Fiji and is a part of the lifestyle. Most noble families maintain a stock of the valuable item for future needs like engagements, weddings, funerals and births, and, at times, to seal an apology.

There are opportunists around who make a killing by exploiting the vacuum left over from the shortage of the originals and sell fakes made of plastic.

Experts can identify these easily because a fire will melt the fake, not the original.

It is customary for people to give gifts on occasions like engagement or marriage and the preference world over is usually for diamonds but, in Fiji, it is the sperm whale tooth – to Fijians, this is a more precious gift than a diamond. It is, in fact, a tussle over saving an endangered species and maintaining a tradition that has been going on for ages. Under the circumstances, Fijians will have to resolve the issue on their own and bid goodbye to the tabua.