Roof finial (gomoa)

Kanak peoples, New Caledonia
19th–20th century


Object Place: New Caledonia

Dimensions

106.7 x 25.4 x 15.2 cm (42 x 10 x 6 in.)

Accession Number

1992.405

Medium or Technique

Wood, pigment

On View

Arts of Asia, Oceania, and Africa Gallery (Gallery 177)

Collections

Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art

Classifications

Architectural elements

Roof finials on Kanak chiefs’ great houses represent protective spirit ancestors and allude to the community of the dead who benevolently assist in the affairs of the living. Both ends of this finial, which was made from wood of the houp (Montrouziera cauliflora), a tree endemic to New Caledonia, were cut off after it was removed from the roof. The long lower pole would have been part of the structure of the house, and a triton shell would have adorned the long spire at the top. The crowning and central element of the house, it symbolically alludes to the role of the chief. After his death, the finial (called gomao) may have marked his gravesite. This complex, subtly balanced gomao is carved on both sides, allowing it to see or be seen in two directions. The semi-abstract, slightly swelling form suggests a human figure that has been reduced to silhouetted elements. Projections surround the lower lozenge shape that may represent a body; curving prongs encircle a similar shape above the head. Schematic raised arms and pierced ears draw attention to the jowly face with its protruding eyes and prominent nose. Traces of pigment remain on the neck and faces; the reverse side is more weathered.

Provenance

Klejman (probably John J. Klejman, dealer, b. 1906 – d. 1995), New York [see note]. Private American collection. December 8, 1989, sold by Pace Primitive and Ancient Art, New York (stock no. 52-10909) to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1992, partial gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA; 2014, acquired fully with the bequest of William Teel to the MFA. (Accession Dates: June 30, 1992 and February 26, 2014)

NOTE: Provenance information was provided by the gallery at the time of the Teels' purchase.

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel