This large figurehead is carved from Solomon Island rosewood (pterocarpus indicus), in this instance a piece of a very light color. He is holding a bird, thus indicating that the canoe is coming in peace.
Essential to transportation, fishing, and warfare, canoes in the western Solomon Islands were formerly lavishly adorned. The centerpiece of the prow was a distinctive figurehead, known variously as a nguzu nguzu, musu musu, or toto isu. Attached at the waterline so that it dipped in the sea as the canoe rode the waves, the figurehead reportedly served as a supernatural protector ensuring safe passage and a successful expedition.
The images on the figureheads are typically busts depicted with large heads and small arms with the hands raised to the chin or clasping a smaller head or bird. The face is marked with traditional 'warpaint' and the ears show either a circular ornament or elongated earlobes. The jutting jaws of the images were reportedly attributes of spirits and the figureheads are sometimes said to afford protection from dangerous sea spirits known as kesoko. A kesoko was a water fiend, which could cause the winds and waves to upset the canoe, so that he might fall on and devour the crew.
For the mother of pearl inlay, the artist cuts a piece of shell to fit the space, then cuts it into tiny pieces, files each one to create the pattern, and then puts each individual piece in place using custom putty.
Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands
Personally collected Firebird Voyage
16"H x 10.5"L x 4"W