Very little has been written about these beaded aprons. Each of these beaded ‘aprons’ is made with hundreds of tiny beads forming the central panel and dangling tassels which terminate in shells. The glass beads are likely to be been a trade good introduced into the Solomon Islands by German traders in the late nineteenth century that quickly replaced beads produced from coconut, shell and other materials.
Kia are very rare and are said to have been created by and worn by women down the chest. However, an early image shows just such an ornamental apron worn hanging down a woman’s back. Within the Siwai community these aprons are worn only down the front and used at kooya and ori ceremonies held at the end of the mourning period. They are still in use today and are passed from mother to daughter.
Both kia were acquired in 1971 as part of a group of works all labelled ‘Tulaghi’ (Tulagi), the capital of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate 1896–1942, a location which suggests they were collected prior to World War II. Similar aprons can be found in southern Guadalcanal, but these particular items may originate from the Shortland Islands or southern Bougainville.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
From: Crispin Howarth with Deborah Waite Varilaku: Pacific arts from the Solomon Islands National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2011