Admiralty Islands, Bismarck Archipelago, Melanesia
H. 56 cm

Vegetable fibers, shell beads, red pearl and seeds


The Admiralty Islands are marked by an incredible linguistic diversity. Indeed, the few thousand islanders speak 27 different languages. However, the analysis of the different societies was based not on an ethnolinguistic analysis of the region, but on the productive and commercial system that they established. According to the classification first suggested by Richard Parkinson and later refined by Alfred Bülher, four main groups can be distinguished. Each of these groups produces goods that they exchange either for subsistence reasons or on the occasion of various events, births, marriages or deaths being marked by the most sumptuous exchanges.
The production of these goods is very specialized, to the point that ornaments, wooden cups, or other ceremonial objects could be subject to manufacturing monopolies, defended if necessary by force. This specialization in the manufacture of objects can be linked to access to a natural resource such as obsidian, allowing the realization of spears, or clay, used for pottery. These customs of production and exchange, despite the diversity of populations and their cultures, are at the origin of a generalized dissemination of objects which has made the Admiralty Islands the most homogeneous artistic ensemble of the Bismarck Archipelago. The use of these types of loincloths gives rise to several interpretations, but the cone shells forming this apron constitute prestigious currency and make this object an ornament of very great value.


Photo © Hughes Dubois

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