Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information




Pacific art

View More:


Nguzunguzu or Toto isu (canoe figurehead)

early 20th century


Solomon Islands people

Solomon Islands


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]


Other Titles

nguzu nguzu

musu musu

canoe prow ornament

Place where the work was made

New Georgia Island Solomon Islands


early 20th century

Media categories

Sculpture , Woodwork

Materials used

wood, black dye, nautilus shell inlay


32.5 x 23.0 x 14.0 cm


Purchased 1962


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Solomon Islands people

Works in the collection


Shown in 4 exhibitions

Exhibition history

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, Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 144 (colour illus.).

Tony Tuckson, Melanesian art, Sydney, 1966, between 12-13 (illus.), 23. 347

Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1962 Acquisitions, Sydney, 1963, 106. 346