The objects included in Celebrating Objects of Oceania each carry intimate knowledge and provide us with the stories of how their owners lived. Their mesmerising narratives come to life as we celebrate each object’s important function and story.
This exhibition features rare miniature Yam Masks, their small stature largely unseen before. Traditionally from the southern Abelam region of Wosera, Yam Masks were used during harvest ceremonies for specifically yams. They represent mythical birds; in this case almost certainly a parrot. In Sassoya, Prince Alexander Mountains, PNG, the Peace Eye Mask is a ceremonial object used to bring fertility. The mask is made from laboriously weaving dense bush cane with cassowary feathers which splay in such a way that they form a swirl around the central, raised eye creating an owl-like appearance.
Also dense in decoration, are the Loloi Giant Nassa Shell Rings. Loloi Giant Nassa Shell Rings are made by threading tiny nassa shells onto fine pliable cane, then wound round and round, to make a large wheel-like form. Only wealthy Tolai people of New Britain own these Loloi, as the nassa shells are money, and can only be acquitted slowly, over time. Nassa shells are the traditional currency of the Tolai people, still used even today. A small strand of these nassa shells can be used in daily transactions, to buy a pig, a canoe etc. Thousands of shells on the cane are wound together into large circles called “Loloi”, becoming a shell bank. The nassa shells are collected both locally but also from as far away as being traded in from the Solomon Islands attesting to the rich trade traditions connecting cultures through- out Oceania.
These objects and the many more exhibiting in Celebrating Objects of Oceania give us fascinating sources of study and a window into the rich cultures of the Oceania region. Their worn surfaces testify to their use, while their unique beautiful designs and vivid pigmented colours focus attention on the skill and craftsmanship of those who made them. We celebrate these objects and their indelible human story.