Close but Far Away
Maps of Oceania are often split into distinct cultural subregions, but there is a surprising amount of overlap between Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Despite being only 100 miles away from the coast of New Guinea, the center of Melanesian culture, the island of Wuvulu—formerly named Maty Island after Matthew Maty, the second principal librarian of the British Museum—is culturally Micronesian. As a result, the unique functional and decorative objects produced on the island show influences from both Melanesia and Micronesia. In this post, we look at a selection of objects from Wuvulu that will soon be going on display in the Bowers Museum’s Spirits and Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands exhibition.
Turtle-y Enough for the Turtle Club
From Wuvulu with Love
Coconut grating stools are employed throughout the Pacific with strikingly similar designs historically used in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia as well. The user sits on the seat facing an arm topped what is now generally a metal blade but is in the case of this grater made with bone. Coconuts are split in half, and then the blade can be used to scrape out the white flesh of coconuts into a bowl. Perhaps the most striking form of coconut grating stool is a squat saddle-shaped seat hailing from Nukuoro in the Caroline Islands. On Wuvulu coconut graters tend to have flat seats and no legs. Most other examples in museum collections also have a squarish shape, giving them the overall impression of a shovel with a shortened shaft. The shape of this grater’s seat appears to be unique in that it is heart-shaped when seen from above.
This bowl or apia nie was designed for the sole purpose of extracting coconut milk. After being deshelled and grated with a grater like the one featured above, the fibrous meat of the coconut is wrung out over these bowls to collect their milk. As is characteristic of Micronesian art, this bowl—carved from a single piece of wood—features a minimalist aesthetic. Though the refined design of these bowls might lead one to believe that they were reserved only for Wuvulu’s elite, their use was widespread and on a daily basis.
Small Boat Sailing
Canoes from Wuvulu and its neighboring island of Aua are called wa. Featuring outriggers, a sleek, pointed profile, and equally pointed vertical spurs on both their prow and stern, there are no canoes quite like them anywhere in Oceania. Wa are carved from breadfruit trees in multiple pieces and put together with complex joinery rather than caulking. They can vary greatly in size from one person vessels just over 10 feet that are intended for fishing to enormous 60-foot-long ships intended for voyaging by as many as twenty individuals. In some cases, these canoes could be lashed together with their outriggers facing outwards and covered with planks and mats to create a temporary living space. Model canoes such as the above example were traditionally made almost everywhere that actual canoes are made. Like the canoes themselves, models from Wuvulu vary greatly in terms of size and scale. This example’s outrigger features five booms, but some have as many as twelve. Some canoe models also feature the pointed spurs of the full-size canoes while other, possibly later examples, tend to have the bulkier, flat-topped spurs seen here.
Text and images may be under copyright. Please contact Collection Department for permission to use. References are available on request. Information subject to change upon further research.
2002 North Main StreetSanta Ana, California 92706TEL: 714.567.3600
Tuesday - Sunday10:00 am - 4:00 pmClosed on:MondaysFourth of JulyThanksgivingChristmasNew Year's Day