Date: late 19th–early 20th century
Geography: Papua New Guinea, Bougainville or Buka Island, Bougainville Province
Culture: Bougainville or Buka Island
Medium: Wood, paint
Dimensions: W. 6 5/8 x L. 67 in. (16.8 x 170.2 cm)
Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1966
Accession Number: 1978.412.1491
The art of the northern Solomon Islands is characterized by stylized human figures known as kokorra. Kokorra is the name of a powerful spirit associated with men's secret societies and masking traditions in the region. However, several kokorra images often appear, as here, within a single work, suggesting the term refers to a type of spirit rather than an individual being. Kokorra are typically shown as seated figures with flexed limbs splayed out to the sides and wearing the distinctive bulbous coiffures or ritual headdresses (hassebou) formerly worn by local men.
In the past, canoe paddles of the present type were reportedly used during trading expeditions and headhunting raids. One side of the blade in the present example is adorned with three kokorra and a fourth, headless figure, which may refer to the practice of headhunting. Paddles from this area frequently show little evidence of use, suggesting they were ceremonial objects or employed only briefly during important expeditions.