Papua New Guinea, Upper Sepik River, ca. 1920s CE. A very large example of a carved wooden canoe paddle with ornate motifs at the upper end as well as at the juncture where the handle overlaps the blade. The upper end is intricately carved with stylized cassowary bird motifs. At the lower end of the handle, additional cassowary motifs are incised all around and continue midway down to the leaf-shaped blade. Size: 91.5" H (232.4 cm); 94" H (238.8 cm) on included custom stand.
Papua New Guinea is known for its extremely rugged terrain. In fact, there are very few roads, and dugout canoes are the primary form of transportation along inland rivers such as the Sepik, the Fly, their tributaries, in addition to the extensive lagoons and swamps such as the Asmat. For this reason, a great deal of time and effort is invested into the creation of canoes and canoe paddles like this example.
The carved cassowary imagery on this piece is quite intricate, skillfully executed, and very symbolic. Cassowaries are featured in many Papua New Guinea legends and are believed to possess mystical powers. Some Papua New Guinea peoples are of the belief that cassowary birds are reincarnations of their female ancestors, while others revere the cassowary as their primeval mother. Still others believe that wielding a dagger carved from the bone of a cassowary bird makes one more powerful. (See a cassowary femur bone dagger in the Australian Museum - AM E.23329.)
Provenance: private Newport Beach, California, USA collection
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A few minor chips to edge of blade, otherwise the paddle is in excellent condition.