Star Harbour area, Makira (San Cristobal), Makira-Ulawa Province, Solomon Islands Melanesia

Bowl [apira ni mwane] c.1900 Materials & Technique: woodwork, bowls, wood, paint
Primary Insc: Solomon Islands
Dimensions: 17.0 h x 64.0 w x 23.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1971
Accession No: NGA 71.176


  • Leadership in Makira was in part won, and its continuance strengthened, through hosting events and ceremonies which involved communal feasts to consolidate the host's position and status. Food was served in special ornamental bowls such as this. Ornamental bowls were used to place offerings of food to personal spirits and to adaro.

    A rectangular panel carved in relief on each side of this bowl is filled with rows of zigzags (rogurogu), a pattern representing snakes or the path left by a snake. [1] To each side of this central panel are wing-like handles carved in relief, suggesting a stylised bird's body and/or head; many feast bowls from the Star Harbour area on Makira (San Cristobal) Island are created in the form of a bird. Below the curved handles are cylindrical ornamentations which have been described as depictions of earplugs. [2] On Owa Rafa (Santa Ana) Island the curving handles are known as qaringasu. [3]

    This feast bowl, while quite small, is typical of ornamented bowls in terms of its detail and finesse. Feast bowls can be colossal, reaching lengths in excess of two metres. There is still a faint smell of coconut oil within the bowl, a reminder of the pudding of taro flavoured with grated coconut it once held.

    Crispin Howarth

    [1] D Waite, Art of the Solomon Islands, Barbier Muller Museum, Skira, Geneva, 1983, p 127

    [2] M White, 'The material culture of Makira' in A Anderson, K Green & F Leach (eds), Vastly ingenious: the archaeology of Pacific material culture in honour of Janet M Davidson, Otago University Press, Dunedin, 2007, p 254, bowl D.22.5

    [3] White, p 254

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
    From: Crispin Howarth with Deborah Waite Varilaku: Pacific arts from the Solomon Islands National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2011