Abelam Hornbill Carving-New Guinea Art-Oceanic Art
Here is a fine and old Abelam hornbill carving that would have adorned the façade of one of their tall, peaked ceremonial houses. Hornbill, “paal,” are a common totem animal for Abelam clans but the Abelam scholar Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin writes that these hornbill carvings on the ceremonial house do not symbolize the wild of the bush but the human realm, “on the strength of its strong and light-colored beak, which the people equate with the (durable) white human bones and the stars, the bird is closely associated with human existence” (2016, p. 175). This particular example is especially fine with lovely painting—notice the white triangular motifs—that represent the ceremonial houses themselves—and at the base of the bird is the cross-hatched patten associated with the string bags used to carry children. The truest sign of authenticity of a hornbill carving is the hole at the base used to lash it to the façade. This one even has a tiny hole on the outer rim of the back as an additional point of attachment—see photo. The piece was collected by the great New Guinea field collector Lynda Cunningham in the late 1960s—you can read about her here in our PROVENANCE section. The hornbill dates to the early/mid 20th century, is 31” (78.6 cm) in height and sells for $3800.