A piece of PNG
BACKGROUND Wooden bowls were once common utilitarian items used in Papua New Guinea’s many diverse cultures. Replaced by modern aluminium pots, many of the unique local styles of bowls can sadly now only be seen in museum collections. WHERE ARE THEY MADE ?
Communities in many provinces traditionally made bowls, with decoration reflecting local traditions. In Manus, impressive large three-legged bowls were carved out of a single log, while in the Siassi islands of Morobe incised decoration, highlighted
with lime, was used. Today, wooden bowls are mostly made as a tourist item, and the premier province for attractive decorative bowls of all sizes is Milne Bay. WHO MAKES THEM?
In the islands and villages of Milne Bay it is the men who make these beautiful objects. HOW ARE THEY MADE ?
Today, steel hand tools, sandpaper, wax and shoe polish are used to produce nice smooth bowls, but in days gone by stone tools and shells would have been used, in a much more time-consuming process. Museum pieces have a slightly rougher finish, clearly showing the use of traditional village tools. In Milne Bay, a variety of dark hardwood timbers are usually used for bowls. Keep an eye out for nicer pieces using striped ebony, or even the increasingly rare black ebony. In other places, a dark hardwood such as kwila or rosewood is used for bowls. In all cases bowls are hand-made and therefore every piece is unique. HOW ARE THEY DE CORATED?
Traditionally most bowls, as utilitarian items, were plain with little decoration, perhaps just some incised designs around the rim. However, bowls from Milne Bay are more artistic, sometimes incorporating interestingly complex shapes and figures, and making extensive use of inlaid mother of pearl shell. Sometimes, the finished pieces are rubbed with volcanic ash rich in graphite, or manganese, to darken and harden the surface. HOW WERE WOODEN BOWLS USED TRADI TIONA LLY? As would be expected of household items, wooden bowls, either shallow or deep, were used to store, hold and serve food. Larger bowls were used to serve food at important feasts and festivals as well as being used as an item of bride wealth or in trade. For example, bowls from Tami Island in Morobe were an important item in the trade networks in the region at the southern end of what today is West New Britain, exchanged for dogs’ teeth, betel nut, feathers, pigs or other foodstuff. WHERE CAN BOWLS BE BOUGHT? Bowls from Milne Bay can be found in most handicraft shops in hotels and main centres. In Port Moresby, they can be found among the goods sold by roadside vendors outside the Holiday Inn Hotel and at regular craft markets. Bowls from other provinces are harder to find, so you would need to travel to villages still making them, or be lucky enough to find them for sale in local cultural festivals. – JOHN BROOKSBANK