Solomon Islands, 19th century or before
Shell (Tridacna Gigas)
Height : 32 cm
Provenance : Collection Alexandre Bernand, Paris
Objects fashioned from the hard marble-like shell of the giant clam are prized by many Melanesian peoples, but the art of working giant-clam shell reached its apogee in the Solomon Islands. The most complex clam shell objects were barava, ornate openwork plaques created in the western Solomon Islands. The designs on some barava are geometric, but some of them include stylized human figures interspersed with forms that resemble faces, shown with spiral eyes and grinning mouths filled with minute teeth.
The above example is of this rare type. The stylized squatting figure reminiscent of ancient Bronze Age motifs representing similar squatting characters, found notably on Dong Son drums and situlas. This iconography has probably the same meaning in both cultures and represents the seated ancestors on the boat of souls, or the sailors on their war canoes, defying death...
Barava appear to have been associated with burial places and were reportedly used to adorn structures housing the skulls of prominent men or slain enemies or placed on graves. In the past, some barava formed part of vovoso, powerful charms carried in war canoes during headhunting expeditions to protect the crew and ensure success.
Price on request