Date: late 19th–early 20th century
Geography: New Caledonia, Grande Terre
Culture: Kanak people
Medium: Wood, paint
Dimensions: H: 76 in. (193 cm)
Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number: 1979.206.1758, .1759
Situated in the southwest Pacific Ocean, New Caledonia comprises the large island of Grande Terre and the smaller islands off its shores. Today its indigenous peoples refer to themselves collectively as Kanaks and their homeland as Kanaky. Kanak societies were formerly ruled by hereditary chiefs, who held secular authority and embodied the supernatural power of village ancestors. In the past and, to some extent, today, chiefs' houses formed the physical and metaphysical centers of Kanak villages. Kanak sculptors created a variety of architectural carvings to adorn the houses of chiefs. The high conical roofs were crowned by carved finials depicting ancestors and other supernatural beings. The entrance and interior timbers were also richly decorated.
The single doorway of Kanak chiefs' houses was flanked by a pair of doorboards, called jovo or tale, attached to the supporting posts on either side. Reportedly carved in male/female pairs, the doorboards portrayed recently deceased ancestors, depicted with the head exposed and the body wrapped in mats, whose patterns appear as geometric designs.