Canoe prow figurehead

Solomon Islands


Carved wood, pigments and abalone
Late 19th century
Height: 9 in. (23 cm)

Reportedly ex collection Barnard Castle, decommissioned from the Bowes Museum, part of the George Brown Collection, a prominent collector based in the Solomon Islands in 1902
Ex private collection, Oxford, United Kingdom
Ex private collection, Sydney, Australia

Price: on request

Melanesia – Eastern Papua New Guinea
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As stated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, « canoes in the western Solomon Islands, essential to transportation, fishing, and warfare, were formerly lavishly adorned. The centerpiece of the prow was a distinctive figurehead, known variously as a nguzu nguzu, musu musu, or toto isu. Attached at the waterline so that it dipped in the sea as the canoe rode the waves, the figurehead reportedly served as a supernatural protector ensuring safe passage and a successful expedition.
The images on the figureheads are typically busts depicted with large heads and circular ear ornaments and small arms with the hands raised to the chin or clasping a smaller head or bird. The jutting jaws of the images were reportedly attributes of spirits and the figureheads are sometimes said to depict, or, alternatively, afford protection from, dangerous sea spirits known as kesoko. ».