Inlaid Bowl

Solomon Islands
20th century

Object Place: Solomon Islands


Overall: 26.5 x 90.5 x 25.5 cm (10 7/16 x 35 5/8 x 10 1/16 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, shell inlay

On View

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


Africa and Oceania



The sea and its creatures have always played a predominant role in the life of the Solomon Islanders. Marine motifs on ceremonial objects such as bowls allude to various sea spirits, which can appear in either threatening or benevolent manifestations. Spirits in the shape of the highly prized bonito and the guiding frigate bird were traditionally seen as supportive, because the frigate bird leads fishermen to schools of bonito fish, which provide abundant food. Large ceremonial bowls stored in cult houses were brought out on festival occasions; families owned and used smaller bowls. The maker of this hollowed-out, horizontal bowl on a footed base carved the body as a swelling frigate-bird form. He blackened the surface and edged the rim with delicate shell inlays, which also appear as eyes on the animal-shaped handles. An upside-down frigate bird supports the projecting tail; a bird’s head grasping a curved fish forms the front handle and is a common motif in bowls from this region.


July 31, 1990, sold by Hurst Gallery, Cambridge, MA to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1996, partial gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA; 2014, acquired fully with the bequest of William Teel to the MFA. (Accession Dates: December 18, 1996 and February 26, 2014)

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel