Papua New Guinea, Massim region, Milne Bay Province
H. 18 5/8 in. (47.3 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
Kula canoes in the Massim region have elaborately carved prow and stern ornaments. They are often identical, giving the canoe two "front" ends that allow the vessels to be rigged and sailed in either direction. The ornaments consist of two components, the prow ornament, seen here, which projects outward from the prow (or stern), and a splashboard, attached transversely behind it to prevent water from entering the canoe. Some prow ornaments, as in the present example, formerly had separately carved charms tied to the tip, which appear to have served a protective function. The charm attached to this prow ornament is adorned with two white birds, probably reef herons. The black motifs on their wings represent asiwan, a type of fish, and the comma-shaped forms above them depict the shell of the chambered nautilus, a relative of the octopus.
[John J. Klejman, New York, until 1966]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1966, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1966–1969; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978
Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 77.
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, 72, 118-9.