2621

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Oceanic Carved Wooden Bowl

Pacific Islands, possibly Marquesas Islands
19th century and possibly earlier

length: 14.7cm, width: 8.3cm, height: 5.8cm, weight: 78g

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Provenance

private collection, London.

This vessel, carved from a single piece of wood, was most likely used to serve food and wine. It has a dark, rich and lustrous patina. Such a patina is from decades of use and handling.

The vessel’s exterior has been carved with asymmetric patterns that resemble a brain. Both sides of the vessel are tapered, so that it fits in the palm comfortably. Its shape and patterns evoke the cannibalistic culture found in some parts of the Pacific. (We have an excellent example of a Fijian ‘cannibal’ fork – click here to see it.) Receptacles used for consuming human flesh were used solely by high-ranking individuals, who were deemed to be worthy of representing Gods.

The carving, in high relief, on this example with its radiating and geometric patterning is akin to that seen on bowls from the Marquesas Islands. The deep relief is also reminiscent of Maori carving work, from New Zealand.

Old and authentic pieces from the Marquesas Islands are rare. Three related examples currently are displayed in the Musée du Quai Branly, in Paris, shown in the final three images below.

Our vessel is in good condition, stable and free from any sign of cracking. It has an excellent, aged colouring, and a deep, lustrous patina.

 

The Marquesans inhabit the volcanic islands in French Polynesia. Their religious beliefs are a complex structure of ancestor worship, animism and magical power. They see the natural elements, forces and phenomena, and ancestral and metaphysical beings as spiritual entities. There is a blend of food and beverage serving vessels used between the utilitarian and the various ceremonial rituals.

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