A piece of PNG

Wooden bowls

Paradise - - Contents -

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

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