Oceania

Malagan head

Tabar Islands, New Ireland

Carved wood, shell
18th or 19th century
Height: 56 ¼ in. (84 cm)

Collected by Pierre Langlois in a cave on Big Tabar in 1970
Ex collection Jacques Kerchache, Paris
Ex collection Antonio Casonovas, Arte y Ritual, Madrid
Ex private collection, Paris

Published and exhibited:
Îles Tabar, J. Kerchache, Paris, Galerie Kerchache, 1971

Published in: Ferocious Poetry, Ancient Arts of New Ireland, 2019

Price: on request

Melanesia – Eastern Papua New Guinea
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This very ancient Malagan statue head probably dates to the 18th or 19th century. It wears a headdress typical of the Malagan sub-tradition referred to a Malaganchak. Even today, the inhabitants of the Tabar Islands emphasize that Malaganchak is a powerful warrior, linked to Ges spirits (the reflected shadow of each human being living hidden in the forest), but also with the deceased. This Malagan sub-tradition is still present in Tabar.
Langlois collected the Malagan displayed during the exhibition by Jacques Kerchache in 1971 in the two caves of Big Tabar. One of these caves is in a spot isolated from surrounding villages, in a karst cliff on the South-East coast. It is located about 50 meters from the bank, protected from ocean waves. The entry to the cave is about 5 meters wide, and not very deep, with its ceiling covered with concretions. After a sharp turn. Some bones, old fragments of decomposing wood, a pig’s head on top of a pile of weathered ocean stones, are scattered here and there. The place’s guard, who lives not far from the cave, indicated to us that the enclosure of the Men’s House was located just in from of the cave where the statues were stored. Inhabitants’ houses were a little further along, on the banks of a creek. Even if the place today has only one inhabitant, this is a privileged spot: at the edge of a cliff, with a source of fresh water and a thick forest stretching out far into the hills. A much larger community lived here a hundred years or so ago.