Hidden Treasures: Ceremonies, real hair and fictional African countries

This time on Hidden Treasures, we dive into Oceania and the various aspects of their many cultures: weapons, ceremonies, and human subjects.

The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) is home to over 45,000 various items from many parts of the world. However, many aren’t aware of the intriguing artifacts that rest on campus, and oftentimes are only found when browsing through MOA for over an hour. This time on Hidden Treasures, we dive into Oceania and the various aspects of their many cultures: weapons, ceremonies, and human subjects.

Malagan carvings: New Ireland

Many of the items in this section are apart of a larger piece.
Many of the items in this section are apart of a larger piece. Samira Sallow

Malagan refers to a series of ceremonies and the art that usually is presented with them. These large ceremonies are native to New Ireland in Papua New Guinea. In MOA’s collection of Malagan carvings, there are dozens of artworks ranging from masks, propeller like figures, instruments and sculptures. Many of the items in this section are apart of a larger piece. The interconnection of these works show that Malagan does not refer to just one aspect of the ceremonies — everything is a part of a larger body of art.

Bust of a woman: Solomon Islands

The black pigment of the sculpture is contrasted by the vibrant colour of her hair and the silver markings on her face.
The black pigment of the sculpture is contrasted by the vibrant colour of her hair and the silver markings on her face. Samira Sallow

The sculpture from the Solomon Islands is a woman’s bust created with real hair and decorated with shells and ebony. These unique wood carvings is a tradition in the Solomon Islands as it is something deep rooted in their culture. The Solomon Islands are known for their intricate designs and adornments of their sculptures. The black pigment of the sculpture is contrasted by the vibrant colour of her hair and the silver markings on her face. She is accessorized in large earrings, which are painted in a complex design. It’s not completely clear why this bust was sculpted, but it could also be a way of celebrating various focal points in someone’s life like passage to adulthood, marriage or death.

Contemporary Highland Shields: New Guinea

The Highland shield in MOA was an older one that was repainted with a newer image, filled with vibrant colours and references many the culture of New Guinea.
The Highland shield in MOA was an older one that was repainted with a newer image, filled with vibrant colours and references many the culture of New Guinea. Samira Sallow

This wooden plank served as a shield of protection to the people of New Guinea. In the 1980s, the interest in fighting with these Highland shields came back after years of being considered obsolete. The Highland shield in MOA was an older one that was repainted with a newer image, filled with vibrant colours and references many the culture of New Guinea. The character painted on this shield is The Phantom, a comic book superhero who fights crime in a fictional African country Bangalla. Surprisingly, The Phantom appears on many shields from the New Guinea Highlands and helps create an identity for tribes through the decorating of shields.