This is the finial of a large vertical slit gong carved from the trunk of a breadfruit tree. Slit gongs are hollowed cylinders of wood with a narrow longitudinal opening, or slit, whose edges are struck to produce a deep, sonorous tone. Planted upright in the ground, these gongs tower over their percussionists who, seated or standing, animate and bring them to life by striking the lip of the gong with mallets. Played at all major social and religious events, such as grade initiations, funerals and dances, the slit-gongs are more than simply musical instruments, they are considered to be portraits of ancestors so that when played, it is the voices of awakened ancestors which resonates from their interior chamber. Large oval eyes, often painted so as to animate, sit above a prominent, pierced nose through which sprays of leaves are inserted as a means of enlivening further. The forehead is raised and surrounded by rows of concentric toothlike projections, representing the hair (hingiye), and small arms and spiral motifs depicting sacred pigs’ tusks rest on either side of the top of the vertical slit or mouth (tute).
Sources Eric Kjellgren, Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2007.
[Henri Kamer, Paris and New York, until 1959]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1959, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1978
Art From Melanesia. Purchase: Manhattanville College, New York, 1969.
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.