The complex of island cultures to the east of the Papuan mainland are home to some of the most technically and artistically proficient pre-metallurgical expressions you are likely to encounter. The range of objects is gobsmacking, from the little black stone mortar to the left, to the enormous 'walking masks' required by the elaborate malagan mortuary ceremonies, and we have photographed some of the figures related to this practice for the next vol of this series.
These marks are horribly difficult to capture even under the best of conditions, being massively three-dimensional and, like all great works, arrogant in their disregard of the uninformed; in the displays they were also dimly lit, the largest piece defeating us on our first attempt to convey something of its baroque magnificence.
We shall try again.
Please enjoy the other pieces pictured here, and again, please respect the Otago Museum's copyright.
Nusanusa, a prow figure attached to the tomakos or enormous black war canoes of the Solomon Islands.
These craft are used in both fishing and headhunting expeditions around the neighbouring communities.
Nusanusa are usually carved of heavy hardwood and inlaid with hand-cut mother of pearl motifs, ensuring their power as a protective and auspicious ally on fishing runs and as an intimidatory agency on belligerent forays.
They have always reminded me of Baron Samedi, one of the senior loas from the voudoun tradition. They are piercingly, uniquely sinister, almost vampiric in their avidity.
Coconut bowl, Marquesas Islands