canoe prow

Trobriand-Massim, Papua New Guinea
20th century
Artist Unidentified, Pacific Islander

Object Place: Papua New Guinea


Overall: 25 x 78.5 cm (9 13/16 x 30 7/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

wood, paint

Not On View


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art


Decorative arts

Canoe prows from the Massim area are among the iconic works from the Pacific, not only because of their distinctive visual qualities, but also because the canoes were used in the long-distance gift-exchange expeditions known as the kula cycle. Before a canoe could be launched for the first time, ceremonial blessings needed to be performed to ensure a swift and successful return from the Kula trade routes. The canoe prows, affixed to both ends of the canoe, were the first part of the boat to enter the water and the whole canoe would be washed with the sprigs of a shrub, called bobi’u, to rid it of malevolent spirits.


Geneviève McMillan (b. 1922 - d. 2008), Cambridge, MA; 2008, to the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation, Cambridge; 2009, gift of the Geneviève McMillan and Reba Stewart Foundation to the MFA. (Accession Date: June 17, 2009)

Credit Line

Gift of Geneviève McMillan in memory of Reba Stewart