Kanak people, New Caledonia, Melanesia
H. 118 cm

Houp wood (Montrouziera sp.) and pigments

This type of sculpture was mounted on each side of the entrance of the round houses and served as a doorframe. These sculptures are driven into the ground and fixed at their top by lianas to a horizontal beam which is itself fixed to the base of the roof. These monumental sconces are made from the trunk of houp wood. Part of the tree being rot-proof, the sculptors chose particularly solid pieces of wood with a high symbolic value, in order to make these frames. The concave shape of the sculpture follows the curve of the trunk which allows the sculpture to be applied to the door post. The back of the doorframe is scraped with an adze to remove the superficial layer, while the outer face is remarkably sculpted in bas-relief. The doorframes symbolize the father and the mother and are the protective guardians of the dwelling. They are linked to the home of the owner for whom they were carved. These architectural elements are struck by the mourners during funeral ceremonies, inflicting massive wounds on their bodies and noses. In this example, we observe the traces of these ritual mutilations. This frame was truncated by a portion of its lower part following the blows carried out by the mourners. The geometric decorations that occupy the lower two thirds of the doorframe, described as elements of fauna and flora, seem here to represent the sophisticated intertwining of the ligatures that wrap around the body of the deceased. After funeral ceremonies, doorframes can be reused as thresholds or sarcophagus lids.

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