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Friday, January 3, 2014

Solomon Islands Canoe: Peabody Museum #6

Here's an interesting canoe from the Solomon Islands in Melanesia, on display at Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. The display card says it was given to the museum in 1898, but provides no other details, so we'll just look at the photos and make what comments we can. (Earlier posts in this series on the Peabody looked at Baffinland InuitAleut, other Alaskan Eskimo, and Chinook, Coast Salish, et al, and other Pacific Northwest exhibits.)


Solomon Island canoe at Peabody Museum
Starting at what we believe is the stern: the canoe is a sewn-plank monohull. The base is a keel-plank, laid on the flat, to which garboards and a second layer of strakes are added. The strakes amidships are lower than those at the ends. Very tall decorations added at both ends. The plank seams are sealed with black mastic, probably derived from the putty nut (Parinarium laurinum). Elaborate decorations under the stem/stern indicate a ceremonial function, as they would be highly impractical for a working boat. (Click any image to enlarge.)
Solomon Island canoe at Peabody Museum
The profile shows the sharp break between the amidship strakes and the end strakes, and the extreme height of the bow and stern decorations. The hull has a great deal of rocker, continuous from bow to stern. The general shape is that of a war or "headhunting" canoe, although headhunting canoes were commonly even more elaborately decorated. They could reach 55' LOA and hold up to 35 men, but this example is probably 25-30'.
Solomon Island canoe at Peabody Museum
Painted decorations near the stern. The object at the left appears to be a bird (facing right). I can't make a guess about the object to the right. The gunwale has small, detailed, chip-carved decoration. Cracks can be seen in the black caulking material. Canoes were typically stored in canoe houses to protect and maintain the sealant as long as possible.
Solomon Island canoe paddle at Peabody Museum
Amidships on both sides are two "medallions" made of mastic embedded with pieces of shell or mother of pearl at the garboard/upper strake seam. Also shown is a very long, narrow, pointed paddle with a T-grip.
dog decoration on stern (?) of Solomon Island canoe at Peabody Museum
Carved decoration on the bow extension: a dog?.
stern plank seam details on Solomon Islands canoe at Peabody Museum
Another detail near the bow. showing plank seams and decorations. The white decoration under the keel appears to be mother-of-pearl.
end view of Solomon Islands canoe at Peabody Museum
Throughout most of Oceania, hulls this narrow were usually supported by outriggers. But in the Solomons, monohulls were common. 
interior of Solomon Islands canoe at Peabody Museum
In addition to being lashed to each other with (probably discontinuous) stitches, the planks were lashed on the inside to curved frames of complex shape. The thinness of the planks is apparent from this perspective.


A few years ago, In the Boatshed reported on the restoration of a canoe of similar type, size and age. 

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