Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 1.720 m
Purchased by the Christy Fund
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Steps with figure
Matankol people, probably 19th or ealry 20th
From Manus Province, Admiralty Islands, Papua New Guinea
The Admiralty Islands are politically part of Papua New Guinea and are located to the north of the main island The group consists of about forty islands, which include the large island of Manus. The Matankol, or Matankor, people occupy some of the small islands.
The Matankol are experienced sailors and skilled wood carvers. Their carvings include large slit gongs and large feast bowls with elaborate openwork handles. They also make spear shafts and wooden spatulas, which sometimes incorporate human figures. Many of these artefacts are decorated with reddish brown, black and white pigments. The carving often includes bands of triangular or lozenge shapes, as on the figure at the top of this ladder.
Houses are commonly built on piles over water. A ladder of this kind is used to enter a men's house, which is used by men belonging to a particular clan, and as a home for their community leader and bachelors. These houses are elaborately decorated. They have wooden doorposts, carved as large male or female figures. This ladder is carved from a single large piece of wood. It is surmounted by a male human figure; the 'knob' on the top of the head probably represents a male hairstyle, and the incised rings on the limbs may indicate armlets and legbands. A crocodile figure is carved behind the male, with its head downwards and its legs against the male's back. Crocodiles are frequently depicted on artefacts from this area.
S. Ohnemus, An ethnology of the Admiralty (Bathurst, Crawford House Publishing, 1998)
D. Newton, 'The Admiralty Islands and the Northwestern Islands' in Arts of the South Seas: the co (Prestel Verlag, 1999), pp. 238-43