Huge headhunting war canoes from Malaita and the western Solomons were built with wood planks sewn together with creeper and caulked with putty nut. Each carried 30 or more warriors. Malaita fleets had up to 50-60 canoes.
Tall, slender prows were inlaid with mother-of-pearl and ornamented with strings of cowry shells. Nguzunguzu are small relative to these large prows. One was attached to the prow just above water line. The figureheads were stained black and inlaid with shell, matching the canoes.
Nguzunguzu war gods watched out for enemies, reefs and sand bars, calmed the seas and kept away evil water spirits. Nguzunguzu may hold heads, skulls or birds in their hands. Skulls were believed to contain the life force, so head-hunting transferred power from the victims to the warriors.
Birds may have represented navigators like the frigate bird which are used to spot bonito schools. Nguzunguzu birds are now sometimes called "birds of peace."
War and bonito fishing canoes were docked in decorated canoe sheds which were also ceremonial houses for the men and contained ancestor relics and skulls. In Langa Langa Lagoon these custom houses watched out from the seaward side of the artificial islands, while the villages were sited on the sheltered side facing inland.
Pre-contact fishing ceremonies were very important, especially festivals for the beginning of bonito season. Dolphin hunts involved the whole community. Fish-shaped caskets were made for bones. Fishing is still the main source of protein for many people.
Kite fishing used a ball of sticky cobweb trailed from a pandanus or coconut leaf kite pulled from canoes to catch gar fish. Wood fishing floats are used in series with stone counterweights to catch flying fish. Polynesian villages had large wooden shark hooks. Metal hooks were used after contact.
Other canoes include small plank canoes for fishing, ocean going-outriggers with matting sails and deck houses and dugout canoes. There are both plain and highly decorated paddles including ceremonial paddle/clubs in museum collections. Model canoes are made for sale.
Dark wood carvings are made from ebony or a softwood like milky pine (alstonia) stained black. Light-colored carvings are from kerosine wood (corsia subsordata) which burns easily. It is similar to walnut and polishes to a high finish.
Carvings are shaped with an adz. Detailing is done with rats' teeth, metal files, obsidian flakes, broken glass and knives, some fashioned from old WWII wrecks. Finishing is done with pumice stone, shark or ray skin or leaves used as sand paper.
Shell inlay is cut from the pearl shell chambered nautilus (nautilus pompilius) and also ends of cone shells. Glue is crushed putty nut (Parinari glaberrima) which turns dark when dry or store glue. Some figures have shell inlay designs representing tattoos.
Solomons Islanders value an item as "money" if it is passed between a number of people and is recognized and accepted as having a relatively set value. Some kinds of traditional exchange include:
Most shields were made of resin-covered wickerwork. They are light and strong with a looped cane handle on back. The fiber on this one was stained black before being woven, on others the color is added later. A few Solomon Island shields are inlaid with shell, but only in museum collections; possibly the shell was added later. This style of shield is represented in a petroglyph in Hoilava River area. Other weapons include bows and arrows, spears including some tipped with human bone, sling shots, many varieties of stone-headed clubs and fighting sticks.
Musical instruments include panpipes of bamboo in groups of 4,8,10, 16+. The musicians are professionals who perform in groups. Single flutes are played by individuals. Traditional instruments are wooden drums, rattles, basketwork fans beaten against the hand, whistles and rhythm sticks. Stamping tubes in sets of 10 are played with stones like a xylophone. Modern bamboo bands use rubber thongs to play sets of bamboo as big as pianos.
Dance wands, carved coconut cups and bamboo lime containers with black incised designs accented with dye from charcoal and the euphorbia tree are still made.
Plaited baskets of many types are available at the markets. Buka, Bougainville and Choiseul coiled baskets were famous for their quality.
Barkcloth (tapa) is made plain for wrappings and stoppers and also decorated with sap or soot for black and turmeric for yellow. There is a type with pale blue leaf dye designs in museum collections. Fiber (grass) skirts were often part of bride price exchanges. Santa Cruz Islanders wove laplaps of banana leaf thread on backstrap looms.
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Artifacts on this site are collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. More background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. Carolyn Leigh, P.O. Box 85284, Tucson, AZ 85754-5284 USA, Art-Pacific at http://www.art-pacific.com/