These are unique carved Kokorra spirit figures on a paddle from Papua New Guinea, c1850. It is part of the Paget-Blake Collection and on show in Explorers Gallery.
The ornate paddle is about 3 feet long and depicts kokorra spirit figures which were often used as a pictorial representation linking the tribe’s people with their inspirational male ancestors.
The paper label reads “Dead warrior’s paddle always buries with him to enable him to cross the waters of Styx. New Caledonia”. (In this context ‘Styx’ refers to the Greek mythological equivalent of a river that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld.)
Though written in the Explorer Paget-Blake’s own hand, it is in fact wrong and has been subsequently crossed out. New Caledonia is about 1,800 miles away from Papua New Guinea.
The paddle is about 150 years old and was originally from Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea.
Bougainville Island is the easternmost island of Papua New Guinea, in the Solomon Sea, Southwestern Pacific. With Buka Island and several island groups, it forms the autonomous region of Bougainville. Geographically, Bougainville is the largest of the Solomon Islands, located near the northern end of that chain.