A Group of Ceremonial Adze Blades
Papua New Guinea - Lake Sentani Area
Late 19th/Early 20th Century
It was reported by the first European to travel to the Lake Santani area in 1893, missionary G. L. Bink, that stone and shell adze blades were traditionally used for wood carving. The most highly prized stone was chloromelanite which was found in the Cycloop mountains to the north of the lake. The extremely hard, veined, jade-like stone varies in colour according to the surrounding minerals from pale to extremely dark green, almost black. The blade was mounted in a wood haft and was so effective that it was able to carve even the ironwood supporting posts of the chiefs' houses.
The blades were very roughly shaped by 'pecking', striking with a hammer stone, to reduce them to a very basic shape which was then ground away using a sandstone. It was further polished with sand and water, an extremely time-consuming and labour intensive process. The beauty of the stone was such that not only was it appreciated for its usefulness but adze blades were also made for ceremonial purposes and probably also as a form of currency.
The peoples of Melanesia had a number of systems to enable them to exchange goods, the simplest being bartering of one item for another. However, in Papua there was another highly organised system of ceremonial exchange within a certain specified area. Individuals or communities would give prized objects to a partner in the same or a different village. They would not immediately receive a gift in return but at a future date would receive something of at least equal value. The ceremonial giving or kula would take many months of preparation and was perceived as the centre of economic, social and ceremonial life; it not only provided prestige by the accumulation of prized objects but most importantly created a network of obligations which contributed to social stability: it also set up and reinforced trading routes.
A third form of exchange also existed whereby, if an item, such as a stone adze blade, had a stable general value, then it could be used as currency; for instance as payment for a wife or canoe. However, its greatest value would be that by its giving it would buy advancement in society, and those in the positions of authority would store the 'currency' so that on their deaths it could be distributed, giving further honour and fame to the deceased and his descendants.
Melanesia by B.A.L. Cranstone, pub. British Museum 1961
The Art of Lake Sentani, pub. The Museum of Primitive Art, New York 1959
Objets de Pouvoir en Nouvelle Guinée, Musée d'Archéologie Nationale, Saint-Germain en Llaye. p.291-303
1646 / 2953
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