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Late 19th Century Bird Canoe Prow, "Naho". Vanuatu L 52cm
A beautifully worn carved Naho, featuring a stylised bird, adze marks, some encrustation and dark patina expected with wear and age of the piece.
Carved wooden canoe prows of this type originate from the coast of Northeastern Malekula Island, Northern central Vanuatu. The Small Islands cultures of Vao, Atchin, Wala, Rano, Uripiv and Uri – are the only ones to possess such a detachable type of canoe prow.
"The carvings on such prows indicate the social status of the male owner (or a group of ritually related males) of the canoe in the Maki, the men’s graded/ranking system in the Small Islands. The variants of this system in the area have basically two ranks – with many subdivisions – traditionally often taken jointly by groups of men and each rank sometimes takes a generation to complete. Vast numbers of tusked boars (the value of the pig depending upon the tusk curvature) are needed in the ritual payments and sacrifices involved in these complex ceremonial cycles.The male owner of a canoe pays (in pigs) a sculptor to make a canoe prow containing the relevant elements of the former’s ritual status. The main form of most prows signifies a type of revered sea-going bird that is associated with chiefly travel and endeavour."
Arts of Africa and Oceania. Highlights from the Musée Barbier-Mueller, musée Barbier-Mueller & Hazan (eds.), 2007: p. 350. KIrk Huffman