Figurehead

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Photography Carl Warner

Registration number
4442
Item name
Figurehead 
Category
Sculpture/Carving
 
Indigenous name
toto isu 
Maker
Unrecorded  
Associated cultural group
 
Place
Pacific > Solomon Islands
Map
Collector
Mr William Effey 
Acquisition date
April 22, 1950 
Acquisition method
Donated by Mr William Stephens 
Raw material
wood; shell, nautilus; organic pigment; adhesive, putty nut
Dimensions
H: 330 mm W: 320 mm L: D: 80 mm Circum:

Description

Wood canoe figurehead; one seated nguzunguzu carved between two sections of wood and the head of another nguzunguzu carved above; main section of the figurehead is painted red and black and inlaid with putty nut and small pieces of carved nautilus shell forming geometric designs. Registration number 4442 marked with pen and tag.

Research notes

From the UQ Anthropology Museum exhibition ‘Solomon Islands: Re-enchantment and the Colonial Shadow’, a scholarly project curated by Diana Young in collaboration with research consultants Graham Baines, Annie Ross, Clive Moore and David Akin, August 2016 – June 2017.

This canoe prow ornament is of a type used in western parts of the Solomon Islands, with tabs that made it possible to slot the item into the bow of a canoe if and when required. This type of decorated prow is no longer seen in the Solomons and there are few examples in museums. At the top is positioned the prognathous, dog-like head of a nguzunguzu with its all-seeing eyes that are said never to close. Its face is marked by a line typical of those on the painted face of warriors in the past.

This nguzunguzu figurehead is said to watch ahead of a canoe to whose bow it is fixed so as to alert the crew to any hazards, particularly hazards posed by sea spirits. There are larger examples of nguzunguzu figurehead in the museum online catalogue (Registration numbers 2103, 2622). In item 4442 described here the support of one of the sea spirits seems to have been co opted in the form of the carved figure below the nguzunguzu that appears to be a representation of a powerful sea spirit known widely in western Solomons as kesoko. Are its teeth those of a carnivorous fish or, perhaps, those of a crocodile?

The pieces of pearshell inlay, all made from Nautilus shell, are of the same pattern as were once used to decorate war canoes, and these pieces are set in the same tita (Putty nut) black paste. It is probable that the V-shape that features in the decoration, and is found in much of the artefact decoration from this area, is a reduced form of the tail of the bonito fish and the crooked wings of the frigate bird - two closely associated species that feature in most canoe voyages.

This Item of the Month was written by Dr Graham Baines, Honorary Research Fellow Anthropology, July 2013.

William Effey was an Australian businessman in Queensland who owned Rowes Cafe in Brisbane and was a shareholder of Hivo Plantations Ltd, which operated a copra plantation in Haevo, Santa Isabel from around 1913 to 1936. Although Effey did not live in Haevo he collected many items through his contacts during his visits possibly up until the 1940's [Effey source file].

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