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Large, Ceremonial ‘Prestige’ Axe with Greenstone Blade

New Guinea Highlands, probably Wahgi People
early 1900s

length: 56cm x 55cm



UK art market; most probably has been in the UK since colonial times

This ceremonial axe most probably is from the Wahgi People of the New Guinea central highlands and dates to the early 20th century. It comprises a polished wooden shaft or handle, a greenstone axe head and a wooden counterbalance with these elements held in place by tightly wound cloth.

Such an axe was not intended for actual use but was a ‘prestige’ item – a store of wealth and an item to be seen with as a symbol of power and means.

A related example is illustrated in Wilson (2014, p. 88).

The example here has ample signs of age. The handle particularly has been worn smooth by handling and has developed a lustrous, honeyed patina. The greenstone axe head is without any significant chips. It has a natural inclusion that runs across it.


Wilson, N. (ed.), Plumes and Pearlshells: Art of the New Guinea Highlands, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2014.

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