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Santa Cruz Island Figure Sculpture and Its Social and Ritual Contexts

Santa Cruz Island Figure Sculpture and Its Social and Ritual Contexts

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Santa Cruz Island Figure Sculpture and Its Social and Ritual Contexts
    Book Description:

    In this ethnographic study of traditional sculpture from Santa Cruz Island, near the Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific the late anthropologist William H. Davenport presents a distinctive genre of figure sculpture produced for and used in traditional religious rituals and ceremonies. The body of the book discusses the history of Santa Cruz Island society since the first Europeans came to the area in 1595, the cultural meanings of its most conspicuous features, and descriptions of the main components of worship, the rituals. The book includes discoveries about the making and use of the figurines, as well as the iconography of the pieces. The latter information is derived from general ethnographic data collected in the course of field research between 1958 and 1976 on Santa Cruz Island and the adjacent islands of the Santa Cruz Group, where Davenport's many close friends included both his informants in the villages and officers of the British Colonial Service. A dual study of a tradition of so-called tribal art in its context and a study of Santa Cruz Island society, the book includes meticulous descriptions of the sacred objects, currency, dances, and social interactions. Davenport's records of 55 specimens of Santa Cruz sculpture from both private collections and museums-initial acquisition, subsequent ownership, and other detailed physical information-constitute the catalogue section of the book. An engaging and previously unrecorded transcription of information distilled from local informants of the oral myths, rituals, and ceremonies reveals how Santa Cruz believers distinguished, celebrated, and communicated with their deities. Davenport's own unique photographs-both black and white and color-illustrate rituals on the island and life as it was lived before independence in 1978. His work here is a record of a culture which is barely now either lived or remembered by the descendants of those who created it, and all figural sculpture discovered in the future must be judged against this corpus of authenticated originals. Audiences will include anthropologists interested in the tribal arts of Pacific peoples, libraries with Melanesian collections, art historians, contemporary historians interested in the difference between description and comparison, and the special political and economic situation of colonialism.

    eISBN: 978-1-934536-42-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiii)
    Nancy Davenport
  5. 1 The Collectors
    (pp. 1-10)

    The collection of sculpture discussed and pictured in this study comprises all the known specimens of a unique genre of tribal art from a single place, Santa Cruz Island, located in the southwest Pacific Ocean (Figure 1.1). This is the ethnographic and tribal art region called Melanesia. I shall refer to Santa Cruz Island as Nendö, which is its name in the main language of the island.¹ Altogether there are 55 specimens, shown as plates in this catalogue. All are figurative, that is they resemble the human body, and all can be categorized as sacred icons that depict deities or...

  6. 2 Iconography and Style
    (pp. 11-34)

    This chapter offers a general overview of the style and iconography of Nendö figurative sculpture. No extant figure today is complete in that none is fully clothed, painted, or decorated. Provided below is material useful for envisioning these figures as they once existed and were revered in Nendö culture.

    Nendö figurative sculpture is a unique genre of tribal art, which is to say it comes from a single location and it has an identifiable style all its own. Some of the style features are purely formal and some are iconographic. In the latter the references, or iconic meanings, are to...

  7. 3 Worship and Ritual
    (pp. 35-54)

    The sculptures presented in this volume embody a spiritual life in Nendö that has now been largely relinquished. Below is an account of the ceremonies and rituals whereby the dukna were once revered.

    Traditionally, daily worship of a tutelary deity involves prayer and making food offerings at the evening meal before a household altar. The altar is located in the worshipper’s dwelling (mabau) or in the men’s house (madai) or both. The altar itself is a small space, perhaps 3’ on each side, on the earth floor of the mabau that has been clearly demarcated so children and visitors can...

  8. 4 The Santa Cruz Island World View: Cultural Assumptions and Mythology
    (pp. 55-66)

    This chapter provides cultural materials to convey insight into the Santa Cruz Island (Nendö) world view as it was when the first Anglican teachers began to spread Christianity during the last half of the 19th century. By “cultural assumptions” I mean those indigenous ideas and orientations that filtered and conditioned everything the people of Nendö knew about the world (nulā) around them. These myths and cultural assumptions are the foundation from and for which Nendö figurative sculpture was developed. The 55 figures bear in them the weight and spirit of this traditional Nendö, before the changes wrought by Europeans.


  9. 5 Myths of the Santa Cruz Island Dukna
    (pp. 67-94)

    Most of the figures in the catalogue presumably represent named tutelary deities, or dukna. The particular names of these deities and the myths surrounding them have now, however, become disassociated from the figures. The myths recounted below, upon which the religious life of traditional Santa Cruz Island (Nendö) society was based, are, nonetheless, instructive in the context of this catalogue, because they demonstrate the extraordinary and widespread powers that these figures must have been imbued with at the time of their making and use as ritual objects.

    A man from Tanga, one of the villages of Nifiloli in the main...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 95-108)
  11. A Catalogue of Santa Cruz Island Figure Sculpture
    (pp. 109-220)
  12. References
    (pp. 221-224)
  13. Index
    (pp. 225-232)
  14. Author Note
    (pp. 233-234)