Dance Wand Bird Malaita Island Solomon Islands
These two fine old and used Dance Wands are from the Kwara’ae people of North Malaita Island in the Solomon Islands.
Carved in the form of a stylised bird which is a clan totem. When groups of ceremonial dancers use these Dance Wand Birds they are accompanied by the music made from bamboo Pan Pipes. The dances re-enact the mythology of the voyages made by the original ancestor to arrive at North Malaita where the Kwara’ae people live today.
Birds motifs are often used in Solomon islands art, frigate birds are very important to the lives of Solomon Islanders. When watching the sea they can see when frigate birds are hunting small baitfish by circling and diving in the water. Where there are small baitfish large Tuna follow. Tuna is one of the most important fish for food in the Solomon Islands.
Crispin Howarth at The National Gallery of Australia in his superb publication & exhibition at the NGA VARILAKU: Pacific Islands Art from the Solomon Islands 2011 states
” Large sculptures of bonito fish (Katsuwonus pelamis) hung from the rafters inside ceremonial canoe-houses along with carvings of sharks and people, and trophies of fish skeletons leftover from feasts.
Bonito are scaleless, smooth-skinned fish copiously filled with red blood similar to that of people. So close are the connections between bonito and people that one part of the maraufu or malaohu initiation ceremonies included the flowing of blood from the bonito into the mouth of initiates.
The sacred nature of bonito accorded to bonito continues into the present day in some areas:
‘To the Melanesian’s of the South-east Solomon’s the catching of the bonito is one of the things for which he exists. To him it is the king of fish … these bonito fish are no ordinary fish, they are virgin-born, and are under the care of special ghosts and sharks’.
Bonito are very difficult to catch and could only be caught when their protective deities wished them to be caught; their seasonal arrival signified the start of initiation events and the sharing of traditional knowledge. Sculptures of bonito and frigate birds were taken out of the canoe-house and attached to decorated platforms erected on the shore, facing out to sea, for ceremonial performances.
Bonito band into a school to prey on shoals of small bait-fish, working together to aggressively attack the shoal and drive it towards the surface, where fish hawks, terns and frigate birds and sharks enter the fray. This natural phenomenon attracts fishermen to the churning waters and the possibility of capturing bonito. These bonito-instigated events may last for hours or dissipate quickly, and are considered to be episodes of almost supernatural occurrence ”
Provenance The Todd Barlin Collection of Solomon Islands Art & Oceanic & Pacific Islands Art & Artifacts.
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