Nguzunguzu or Toto isu (canoe figurehead)
early 20th century
Solomon Islands people
In the Solomon Islands, long plank-built war canoes are revered for their size, speed and splendour. Stained black and inlaid with white nautilus shell, the outer length of the canoe's raised prow is festooned with large cowrie shells. At the bow, carved anthropomorphic figureheads are lashed just above the waterline. Appropriate rituals accompany the construction and decoration of these canoes, which are still made today.
Before missionisation, war canoes were used in head-hunting raids – the small head held in the hands of this figure emphasises its role as a symbol of head-hunting. One of the first works to enter the Pacific collection, this carving was purchased from a private collection in Sydney and closely resembles a late 1800s 'nguzunguzu' from Roviana Lagoon, in Geneva's Barbier-Mueller Museum.
[entry from Exhibition Guide for 'Melanesian art: redux', 2018, cat no 1]
canoe prow ornament
early 20th century
wood, black dye, nautilus shell inlay
32.5 x 23.0 x 14.0 cm
© Solomon Islands people, under the endorsement of the Pacific Islands Museums Association's (PIMA) Code of Ethics
Shown in 4 exhibitions
Acquisitions 1962, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 Apr 1963–12 May 1963
Melanesian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 20 Apr 1966–22 May 1966
Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 Oct 1974 -
Melanesian art: redux, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 Nov 2018–17 Feb 2019
Referenced in 5 publications
John Mundine and Renée Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Aboriginal and Melanesian', pg. 57-71, Sydney, 1988, 68 (colour illus.), 69,.
D'Arcy Ryan, Art and Australia [Series 5, Vol. 4, No. 2], 'On discussing Ethnic Art', pg. 137-145, Sydney, Sep 1966, 142 (illus.).
Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 144 (colour illus.).
Melanesian art, Sydney, 1966, between 12-13 (illus.), 23. cat.no. 347
1962 Acquisitions, Sydney, 1963, 106. cat.no. 346