Canoe Figurehead (Nguzu Nguzu, Musu Musu, or Toto Isu)
late 19th–early 20th century
Solomon Islands, New Georgia Island possibly, Western province
New Georgia Island (?)
Wood, paint, shell
H. 5 1/2 x W. 4 1/2 in. (14 x 11.4 cm)
Gift of Morris J. Pinto, 1976
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
Canoes in the western Solomon Islands were essential to transportation, fishing, and warfare. In former times, they were 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 are typically busts depicted with large heads wearing circular ear ornaments and small arms with the hands raised to the chin or clasping a head or bird. The jutting jaws of the images were reportedly attributes of spirits, and nguzu nguzu are sometimes said to depict, or afford protection from, dangerous sea spirits called kesoko.
Morris J. Pinto, New York, until 1976
Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 100, 170-1.
Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 82.