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A Superb Chief’s House Roof Spire, Grande Terre Island, New Caledonia 18-19th Century


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Collection No. TB-687
Size H- 132cm x 35cm
A Superb Chief’s House Roof Spire, Grande Terre Island, New Caledonia 18-19th Century
A Superb Chief’s House Roof Spire, Grande Terre Island, New Caledonia 18-19th Century
A Superb Chief’s House Roof Spire, Grande Terre Island, New Caledonia 18-19th Century

This superb Chiefs House Roof Spire was a structural element placed at the top of the chief’s house, specifically at the apex of the conical thatched roof. Carved from a single piece of hardwood, it represented an ancestor from the clan of the chief’s mother. Upon the chief’s death, this finial would have been removed and placed on his burial mound. See the old photo and drawing of where this artwork sat on the Chief’s House.

In the past, the chief’s house, a circular building built around a central post and situated at the end of a broad avenue, was richly decorated with ornamentation that referenced his ancestral lineage. The single entrance of the house was flanked on either side by a male-female pair of carved door jambs ( see my other listing for a superb pair of Door Jambs)  These massive plank-like images represented two ancestors with only their heads exposed and wrapped in woven funerary mats.

Tradition dictated that only the heads of ancestors should be represented in art since this was how they revealed themselves to the living. The gender of the ancestor was indicated by the pattern on the band above the eyes. Male ancestors had a series of vertical lines, whereas female ancestors had a series of slanted lines. These door jambs were meant to symbolize the reemergence of the ancestors into the community.

Provenance: The Nicolai Michoutouchkine Collection (1929-2010)

Todd Barlin Collection of Oceanic Art

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