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The Philatelist

Stamp Nook: Porcupine Fish Helmet

The Philatelist | 2005-02-18.0250 LMT | Philately | Fashion | Nature

This edition of Stamp Nook takes us to the tropical Gilbert Islands of Micronesia, now known as Kiribati, where we encounter a curious artefact. Issued on December 6, 1976, the stamp (Scott #289) depicts a porcupine fish helmet (or te barantauti), a traditional Kiribati warrior's helmet made out of the inflated, dried carcase of a porcupinefish, a close relative of the pufferfish.

Porcupine fish helmet icon.(I should also point out that Mr Zapato has an icon of the porcupine fish helmet available in his Archæologicons set. Very useful for differentiating your want-list of Oceania topicals.)

As can be seen in the above souvenir sheet (#292a), the porcupine fish helmet was merely one part of the traditional war kit of the Kiribati natives. Other equipment included a shark's teeth dagger (#290), a shark-tooth-encrusted fighting gauntlet (#292), and coconut body armour (#293). This made for quite an impressive sight when fully kitted out:

This officer of the Gilbertese Army has a shark's teeth sword.
Tuvaluans will think twice before trying to occupy his atoll.
More on the history of warfare on the Gilbert Islands.

While the grand tradition of going into battle protected only by coconut husks and spiny fish skins has sadly gone the way of two-tone intaglio printing, the memory of these brave warriors is carried on today by, of all people, snowboarders...

Puffer fish helmet cover

That is all for now. Happy philateling!

End of post.