Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Canoe Prow Ornament (Taburi)

19th–early 20th century
Papua New Guinea, Massim region, Milne Bay Province
Massim region
Wood, paint
H. 47 in. (119.4 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1972
Accession Number:
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.
Madeline Rousseau, until after 1951; [John J. Klejman, New York, until 1956]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1956, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1972; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1972–1978

Malinowski, Bronislaw. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. 2nd ed. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1984.

Haddon, A., and James Hornell. "Canoes of Oceania." Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication vols. 1–3 (1938), p. 251.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 78.

The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 24.

Newton, Douglas. Massim: Art of the Massim Area, New Guinea. New York: Museum of Primitive Art, 1975, pp. 8–10.

Beran, Harry. An Exhibition of Art of the Massim Region of Papua New Guinea from Private Collections in New South Wales and Canberra: Wollongong City Gallery, Australia, 15 October–6 November 1980. Wollongong: Wollongong City Gallery, 1980, no. 66, p. 11.

Newton, Douglas. African and Oceanic Art in Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Israel Museum, 2001.

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.

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