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Canoe Breakwater (Rajim)

Arts of the Pacific Islands

The Massim culture area of islands associated with Papua New Guinea is famous for its seagoing outrigger canoes, used in the inter-island network of ceremonial gift exchange known as kula. These canoes are the object of elaborate ritual and ornamentation. The double-lobed canoe splashboard (rajim) is set transversely across the prow, closing the end of the well of the vessel to deflect the spray of the waves. More important than its practical purpose, however, is its use as a medium for supernatural powers (activated by magical spells cast when it is set in place), which protect the occupants and speed their journey. In this way the canoe breakwater or splashboard is assigned the dual purpose of protecting its owners and giving them power over their kula trade partners. Supporting the curvilinear patterns of the upturned scroll are two frigate birds symbolizing flight and success. Two pairs of snakes appear on the lower portion of the board.
MEDIUM Wood, pigment
DATES 20th century
DIMENSIONS 51 1/2 x 32 3/4 x 3 1/2 in. (130.8 x 83.2 x 8.9 cm)  (show scale)
CREDIT LINE Purchased with funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Milton F. Rosenthal
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION A carved and openwork wooden canoe prow board called a 'canoe breakwater.' At the top are two large lobes, a configuration resembling a horizontal figure eight. Below this configuration is a long panel. The board is slightly convex from side to side. The front is carved in low relief with designs picked out in black, white and red pigments. The top has an elaborate openwork scroll pattern in low relief giving the effect of flattened spirals that are linked. The scroll pattern is derived from bird heads and beaks, probably the frigate bird. There are two segmented disks in the center of each lobe. The rim around the top has regularly spaced perforations. Immediately below the lobe configuration are two bands, each terminating at the sides in bird heads. The lower panel section has been divided in four rectangular sections, two at the top and two below. There is a serpent depiction in each panel; the ones at the top have wriggling bodies. The back is plain, but at the top on the left side, written in black, is the word "YANABA." Condition: Excellent. There are very small holes on front and back surfaces, the result of old insect damage. Slight loss of surface where insect tunnels have collapsed. The bottom front shows evidence of water damage, particularly on left side and there has been erosion of the wood. This area is also flaking slightly and must be handled with care. Some erosion and discoloration from water visible on back, particularly on sides of panel section. There are two nails visible on lower right side in the back. Small loss from erosion on top edge near center on left side.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Canoe Breakwater (Rajim), 20th century. Wood, pigment, 51 1/2 x 32 3/4 x 3 1/2 in. (130.8 x 83.2 x 8.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased with funds given by Mr. and Mrs. Milton F. Rosenthal, 80.2. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 80.2_SL1.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 80.2_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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