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A Superb old Vanuatu Janus Head Spear Finial Malekula Island Vanuatu19th Century

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Collection No. TB-19
Size 38cm
Oceanic Arts Australia buys and sells tribal New Guinea art

A Superb old Vanuatu Janus Head Spear Finial Malekula Island Vanuatu. Dating from the mid 19th Century

This fine old Spear Finial Ornament is from Malekula Island in Vanuatu. Collected in the late 19th Century which would make the Spear Ornament from the mid-19th Century or earlier.  The actual full-length spear would have been 3 meters long and near the top of the spear is where this ornament would be placed. Often the top of the head had a Sting Ray spine attached which gave it a sharp serrated point.  The Janus Head represents ancestors who would give supernatural power to the spear and warrior.

The faces are quite cubist looking with wide flaring nostrils, the side view shows both faces in profile and a concentric diamond design at the top of the sides of the head.  These old ornaments were kept as family heirlooms when the spears were broken and no longer used.   I have always thought that these Malekula Island Spear Finials look like Kanak Masks from New Caledonia which is not that far & there would have been trading & contact between the Islands of Vanuatu & New Caledonia.

Provenance: Jane Catharine Tost (c.1817-1889), and Ada Jane Rohu (1848-1928), taxidermists and shopkeepers, were mother and daughter. Tost & Rohu were two women taxidermists selling taxidermy native animals and native curios and artifacts  from the Pacific Islands,

Visitors to Sydney were enticed to visit the shop boasting ” the largest stock in Australia of genuine native implements and curiosities, carved emu eggs and other beautiful souvenirs, skins of foreign and Australian birds, beasts and reptiles, live snakes (non-venomous), entomological specimens & requisites, birds and animals mounted in life-like style, fancywork goods, and glass domes.’  There was something there for everyone. The taxidermists won at least 20 medals for their meticulous craftsmanship at international trade exhibitions.
Between the 1870s and 1920’s the Australian Museum kept a watchful eye on goods being offered at ‘the queerest shop in Australia’, as it came to be known, acquiring about 130 ethnographic items from them as well as other, natural history specimens. Tost and Rohu artifacts can be found today in museums in Australia, New Zealand, England, and Ireland & in private collections.

 Jane Catherine Tost, the daughter of a prominent English family of naturalists and taxidermists, was employed at the British Museum preparing specimens for some 15 years. Tost’s considerable expertise was acquired at the British Museum in the 1840’s preparing specimens for John Gould. Tost belonged to a prominent English family of taxidermists – she and her two brothers were trained by their parents Herbert and Catherine Ward, who had bred and stuffed birds for gentleman collectors in the early 1800s. Brothers Edwin Henry (1812-1878) and Frederick worked for Gould and Audubon and Tost’s nephew Rowland Ward later became internationally renowned for his big game taxidermy dioramas and “Wardian” animal furniture.

Provenance: The Todd Barlin Collection of New Guinea Oceanic Art 


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