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Owaraha (Santa Ana), Makira-Ulawa Province, Solomon Islands Melanesia

Centre post from a ceremonial house before 1945 Materials & Technique: sculptures, figurines, wood, patina carved
Dimensions: 128.0 h x 18.5 w x 18.7 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2006
Accession No: NGA 2006.413

Throughout the Solomon Islands canoes for fishing, commerce, travel and warfare are considered of such great importance that they are kept in ceremonial houses. These large buildings were also the receptacles for the bones of ancestors and the location for initiation and religious ceremonies.

This centre post once supported a ceremonial house and exemplifies the abstract nature of the artistic traditions of this region through its bold angularity, controlled volumes and simplified forms. The sculpture may represent the mythological event of two men being swallowed by a giant fish. Both figures have aquiline noses following sharp cheek and jaw lines, features that were considered the height of beauty at the time. Above them, flanked by two fish, is a shark’s tail, which forms a natural support for the central roof beam. Originally much taller, only this rhythmically angular upper section of the post remains.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

Throughout the Solomon Islands, canoes for fishing, commerce, travel and warfare are considered of such great importance that they are kept in ceremonial houses. These large buildings were also receptacles for the bones of ancestors and locations of initiation and religious ceremonies.

This centre post once supported a ceremonial house and exemplifies the abstract nature of the artistic traditions of this region through its bold angularity, controlled volumes and simplified forms. The sculpture may represent the mythological event of two men being swallowed by a giant fish. Both figures have aquiline noses following sharp cheek and jaw lines, features that were considered the height of beauty at the time. Above them, flanked by two fish, is a shark’s tail, which forms a natural support for the central roof beam.

Originally much taller, this rhythmically angular upper section of the house post is all that remains.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014

The most monumental sculptures from the Solomon Islands are those related to canoe-houses or aofa, places which held the communal ossuary of fish skeletons, ancestral skulls and other objects as well as the canoes themselves. Each carved post reflected a particular legend or ancestral story.

Hewn from a hardwood selected for its resistance to termites, only the decorated upper section of this house post remains. The central image is of a man with a long thin nose and protruding jaw and mouth. He wears circular ear-spools through his elongated pierced ears and what look to be shell armlets; above him, a fish’s tail forming the support for a roof beam is flanked by bonito fish. Below the man is another figure, bent almost double, with its head directly under the feet of the main figure. Fish imagery is common to house posts from this area, and the vertical twin spire-like structure encompassing the lower figure, with the tips held apart in the upper man’s hands, may represent the jaws of a great fish swallowing both figures.

An old label on the reverse of the sculpture indicates that the house post was in the collection of French art dealer Charles Ratton prior to 1945.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
From: Crispin Howarth with Deborah Waite Varilaku: Pacific arts from the Solomon Islands National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2011