Papua New Guinea

A rich and active community life, exuberating ceremony and dance expresses itself in an eloquent art, and the artistic achievements of the people of Papua New Guinea is among the very best in Oceania. Apart from face masks and figures of men and women, the art of Papua New Guinea also takes the form of intricate designs on canoes, houses, weapons and utensils.

These decorative patterns may be of two kinds: they may be purely geometric in origin-that is to say, they may be merely a combination of straight lines, circles, squares, triangles or other geometric forms. The decorative art comprising figures of birds or of men is the second form of decorative pattern. In this form, the figures comprising the pattern are represented in a kind of formal or stylized outline which has been found to be much more acceptable than natural form in patterns and designs.


Assorted Tribal Art from the Sepik Region

A close examination of the designs in Papua New Guinea show that they are based on different animal or human figures. In one district a crocodile is chosen while in others human faces are spread over a flat shield while the most intricate and beautiful patterns from birds are produced, especially in the south-east island area.

Antique Papua New Guinea ancestral mask

Apart from the more dramatic aspects of tribal art that relate to mythology, warfare, dancing and ceremony, there is also the art that relates to everyday village affairs. These include such things as those produced by the women including skirts of dyed grass fibre, plaited fibre bags, large earthenware bowls made without the aid of a potter's wheel, but, rather by coiling a long, plastic clay "sausage" into the required shape. 

 Papua New Guinea clay sacred water vessel

Among the men's work is included the house carpentry and the fashioning of implements and weapons or large wooden food bowls. These are almost always well made, not withstanding the relatively crude implements including stone adzes and drills and the shark skin rasps and polishes which are used to produce works of carved delicate grace.

The Subut is the good Spirit in the Creation Story.
This one is from Yamok Village, Sowas Tribe, Sepik Province.
See more Tribal Art from Papua New Guinea Home Page

Solomon Islands

The most noticeable feature of the tribal art of the Solomon Islands is the very beautiful decorative fashions used in the production of glistening patterns of inlaid pearl or other shells. Canoes, houses and carved figures of men, birds and fish are all ornamented in this manner. 

Beautiful inlaid Solomon Islands figure

Many black wooden food bowls, both large and small, are in the form of a bird, with head, wings and tail simply outlined with inlaid shell. The bird is the frigate bird and is carved in soft wood with pearl shell inlay and is often reduced to the simplest outline often with only the vestige of a wing, a head or an eye.

Huge Solomon Islands money ring


Old Solomon Islands clubs


Left: Old Solomon Islands mask. Right: Solomon Islands carved shield.

Teak mask, Solomon Islands, 1945

A rare Solomon Islands stone carving from the Island of Malaita


Assorted Vanuatu masks

Vanuatu rom mask

A Vanuatu magic stone

The above Vanuatu Magic Stone is carved from limestone and finished in typical Vanuatu style with red/orange ochre with highlights of white and blue. This figure represents an ancestral spirit guardian. The stone is finely carved from native limestone, with ears, eyes and nose prominently raised above the ovoid form. An exaggerated smiling mouth is carved from ear to ear and emphasized by white dots. The figure is finished with a natural red-orange ochre and then white dots and brilliant dark blue pigments were used to highlight the raised features.

The Vanuatu archipelago, previously known as the New Hebrides (Captain Cook) and the Great Cyclades (Frenchman Bougainville) stretches for some 500 miles within the arc of Melanesia and is made up of a handful of small islands. The native inhabitants had a fascination with death and venerated the souls of the departed. Finely crafted, magic stones were ritual objects, conceived in order to appease and seduce the ancestral spirits. Three colors are typical to Vanuatu objects: Brilliant Blue, white and red/orange.

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Jane Resture
(E-mail: -- Rev. 17th November 2009)