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Ceremonial whale teeth returned to Fiji

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 29/05/2017

More than a hundred polished sperm whale teeth, known as tabua, have been returned from New Zealand to Fiji.

The Department of Conservation says tabua, an important cultural item in Fiji, can't be moved across international borders without permission because they come from an internationally protected species.

Sperm whales are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a legally binding agreement involving more than 180 countries.

DOC director-general Lou Sanson says that, over the years, people travelling from Fiji have arrived in New Zealand with a tabua, but without the CITES permit needed to bring it into the country.

"This has meant they've had to hand over the tabua to DOC," he said.

"We've kept the seized tabua in secure storage,."

Tabua are considered by Fijians as a kavakaturanga or a "chiefly thing". They are not worn but are presented at important ceremonies, including weddings, births and funerals.

Mr Sanson said DOC had returned 146 tabua after discussions with the Fiji Department of Environment.

Fiji DoE permanent secretary Joshua Wycliffe said the handover was a significant event for his country.

He said there were few new tabua in Fiji, because the teeth could now be obtained only when a sperm whale died after a stranding.

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