You only imagine going into the forest to kill a dangerous animal or going into the sea to defeat the scariest sea animal to present its teeth to a man in other to ask his daughter’s hand in marriage to be a scene in a movie.
Well, it happens in real life too. In Fiji, a man goes to his father-in-law when he has the teeth of a sperm whale called ‘tabua’ to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Tabua (pronounced tam-BOO-ah) roughly translates to “sacred” in Fijian.
The valuable relic, associated with good luck and even supernatural powers, has traditionally paved the way for marriages in this nation of more than 300 islands.
The country is famous for its rugged landscapes, palm-lined beaches, and coral reefs with clear lagoons
Presenting a tabua in an engagement is about status and it means that the man’s family is financially okay.
A single tooth strung with braided cord as an oversize pendant on a necklace can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Despite the cost, giving tabuas “is very much still alive and a part of our culture,” said Apo Aporosa, a New Zealand-based anthropology researcher with Fijian heritage. The practice is more common in rural areas, he said, but even in the urban areas, the tradition continues among some families.
A fish specialist for a conservation nonprofit, Waisea Batilekaleka, 34, was interviewed by New York Times where he revealed that he had given almost 20 tabuas to his wife’s family during his engagement and wedding in 2002.
Some he inherited from his family and others came from his mataqali or clan.
Mr. Batilekaleka also took three years to save for the four he bought himself. He gave his wife a diamond ring, which remains rare in much of Fiji.
Most noble families descended from chiefs keep a cache of tabuas available for when a son is in need.
The modern-day romantics who choose to keep the tradition alive, however, often require a few trips to a pawnshop in a city center like Suva.
The Tabuas also according to a report from Fiji’s indigenous affairs “essentially communicate that the holder or presenter highly esteems the sanctity of the agreement, promise, etc.,”
During the days of warring tribes, before Fiji became a British colony in the late 1800s if a chief wanted someone killed and was unable to do it himself, he offered a tabua to another tribe to take care of the matter.
This was the case for an unfortunate 19th-century British missionary, the Rev. Thomas Baker.
According to national legend, the missionary offended a village chief, who then offered a tabua to another tribe to kill him.
In 2003, the descendants of the village that killed — and promptly ate — Baker presented 100 tabuas to the missionary’s ancestors in an effort to break what was viewed as a curse on the area related to the death.