Relationship of art and ritual in oceanic cultures

Oceanic Art: Culture of Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia

relationship of art and ritual in oceanic cultures

OCEANIC. CULTURE. THE CITY ART MUSEUM. OF SAINT LOUIS • This content .. Totemism and clans are still fairly important, and intrasocial relation- ships are .. Kings are supreme and often perform rituals as priests. In such a. Oceanic art or Oceanian art comprises the creative works made by the native people of the Art such as masks were used in religious ceremonies or social rituals. Petroglyphs . The culture was formed by the second wave of Oceanic settlers. . It is mostly made in connection with ancestors, hunting, and cannibalism. THE SPIRITUAL WORLD: RITUAL OBJECTS IN OCEANIC ART both to honor them and to establish a relationship through the mask with the spirit world.

Oceanic visual art, then, although rarely baldly pictorial in a Western manner, is replete with references to both religious and social values. It may even, it has been suggested, be a material means by which values are transmitted nonverbally to those qualified to understand the messages involved, thus becoming a mode of communication that reinforces and is vital to society. Early styles The history of Oceanic art falls into two major phases, corresponding to the periods before and after Western contact.

This is due not so much to the changes ensuing from contact—decisive as they have been—as to the preservation of otherwise ephemeral material by Western collectors and researchers.

The total loss of early works and the paucity of archaeological discoveries renders the comprehension of ancient Oceanic art fitful and incomplete. In fact, there is not enough known about early Micronesian art to warrant discussion here.

Nevertheless, what has survived elsewhere hints at the antiquity of art traditions in Oceania and sometimes illuminates the origins of more recent styles. Australia The Australian continent is liberally dotted with thousands of rock-art sites. They include rock shelters, outcrops of rock, and surface sheets of rock and are decorated with painted, pecked, or engraved figurative and nonfigurative forms in a wealth of styles.

These are the main testimonials to the prehistoric art of the Aborigines ; the only portable works from early periods that have been discovered are some elaborate items used for personal decoration. Long necklaces and chaplets made of animal teeth and lizard vertebrae, bone beads, and stone pendants have been found in burials and elsewhere dating from 15, bp before the present and later. Long bone pins indicate the existence of garments, probably cloaks made of animal skins. The early use of colour for various purposes is attested by the inclusion of red ochre in burials at Lake Mungo in New South Walesdated 32, bp.

While this is not necessarily evidence of any specifically artistic activity, it shows the ritual value of the colour and of the material, which was imported from sources many miles away. Paintings for which human blood was the medium have been found and proved to be more than 20, years old. The chronology of the rock-art styles is established largely by the classic method of tracing the superposition of works in one style over works in another; but current theories are also based on such factors as known climatic and geologic events, the presence or absence in the paintings of certain animals or equipment that are now extinct or obsolete, and the degree to which modern Aborigines are familiar with the sites and the meanings of the art.

One factor that decisively marks the end of the early period is the representation of European or in the north of the continent Indonesian cultural elements, such as ships and introduced animals. One of the earliest known styles is the Panaramittee.

It was widespread, mainly through southern Australia, central Australia, and Tasmaniaand dates from about 30, bp onward. It is characterized by small pecked designs, both figurative and nonfigurative, on rock surfaces. The nonfigurative designs include circles, crescents, and radiating lines; the figurative are almost all of footprints and bird and animal tracks. Another early style, dated to 20, bc, is represented in Koonalda Cave under the Nullarbor Plain in South Australia.

Certain areas of the cave walls, which are composed of a soft rock, are densely covered with engraved or finger-marked geometric designs. Most of the designs consist of no more than parallel lines or herringbone patterns, but they cover several thousand square feet. It is possible that their significance lies as much in their placement at specific points in the cave as in their now undiscoverable symbolism.

Both rock engravings and paintings in the Simple Figurative style are widely found at sites in the north, east, and west of Australia but rarely in the interior. The style apparently followed the Panaramittee, but it cannot be dated precisely. It is characterized by somewhat loose silhouettes of human and animal forms and has remained influential until recent times.

In northwestern Australia, in both coastal and hinterland areas, there are at least two sequences of painting styles. In Arnhem Landrock painting has been divided into a sequence of four styles, partly on the basis of apparent references to environmental changes.

The earliest, the Mimi a clan of spirit beings or Dynamic style, is notable for linear human stick figures that wear ornaments, carry spears and boomerangs, and are occasionally endowed with animal heads.

They are associated with paintings of now-extinct animals, such as the Tasmanian wolf thylacine.

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The style is presumed to date from 18, bp to pre bp. It is followed by the Estuarine style, which developed during a period when saltwater conditions prevailed: A subsequent Freshwater phase is characterized by representations of ceremonial fans made from feathers of marsh birds. The visits of both are pictured in the rock art. A parallel sequence has been traced in paintings from the Kimberly region, to the west.

People of Pacific Cultures (POP Cultures)

An early period is manifested by the Bradshaw style of small human figures, mostly in red, perhaps dating from before bc.

The Bradshaw style is succeeded by the Wandjina stylewhich takes its name from the ancestor spirits depicted in the paintings. The large white spirit figures are outlined in black and have mouthless, circular faces that are framed in red, rayed halos. This style has persisted to the present.

relationship of art and ritual in oceanic cultures

Melanesia The first indication of the existence of any form of art in Melanesia is shown by the use of pigments, probably for personal decoration, in the eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea by 15, bc.

Other examples of early art in New Guinea include the stone carvings, including pestles, animal and human figures, and mortars, that have been found in the central Highlands, where most seem to have been made. Some were exported to eastern Papua New Guinea. The carvings are as yet undated, although it is known that plain stone bowls were in use about bc. Rock art, in the form of paintings and petroglyphs, is abundant in Papua New Guinea but also remains undated.


Stone figure, igneous rock. In the Australian National Gallery, Canberra. Australian National Gallery, Canberra The most important evidence of art in the early western Pacific is the ceramic style called Lapitaafter a site in New Caledonia. It is the most prominent material aspect of a culture that flourished from approximately bc to the beginning of the modern era and that achieved an astonishingly wide distribution. Lapita sites, or other evidences of Lapita influence, are found from the northern coast of Papua New Guinea throughout the major island groups of Melanesia to Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa in the east.

The Lapita culture complex involved intensive exchange of ceramics, stone tools, and other goods over long distances. The Lapita ceramics include a range of handsome vessel forms: It is their decoration, applied with toothed stamps, that makes them so distinctive. Much of it is applied in stacked horizontal zones; most of the design units are constructed from simple arcs or right angles, but some are intricate interlocking patterns.

relationship of art and ritual in oceanic cultures

There are also some complex curvilinear designs incorporating faces that are the earliest dated human representations in the Pacific Islands. The early western ceramics are the most elaborate; designs become increasingly simple to the east until, after about bc, vessels made in the Fiji-Tonga-Samoa area retain some Lapita shapes but lack decoration. Little else remains of this elegant artistic tradition.

Wood carving was practiced, judging by the remains of suitable tools, but no examples have survived. Lapita pottery, reconstructed two-dimensional anthropomorphic design, c. Green It is possible that Lapita art was fundamental to the later development of art in the Pacific. Some Lapita design motifs, especially the more complex, can be shown to have survived in Melanesia until the present day, as have Lapita principles of design layout.

Lapita art was also in all probability ancestral to early phases of much Polynesian art and even to the tatooing and tapa decoration styles of recent times. No other surviving early art from Melanesia approaches the accomplishment of Lapita, but a few contemporary and subsequent prehistoric ceramic traditions deserve mention.

Some, as at Sohano on Bougainville Island in the northern Solomons c. A more elaborate and impressive style is that of the Mangaasi culture of Vanuatu, which dates from bc to ad Early Mangaasi ceramics include spherical pots and are decorated with bold triangles outlined with applied fillets, within which are further arrangements of incised triangles.


Handles were modeled in bird and animal forms. The apparently early New Guinea tradition of stone carving has parallels in other parts of Melanesia. Polynesia In the prehistoric cultures of Polynesia, two conspicuous themes figure largely: The ceremonial ground was a place of worship. It usually took the form of an enclosure maraewhich was raised or walled or in some other way delineatedwith a raised platform ahu across one end.

A row of upright stone slabs along the ahu were backrests for the gods, while other stones indicated the places of human officiants. Early Polynesian cultures shared a number of traits deriving from a common tradition. Types of adzes, fishhooks, and certain ornaments recur, including reel-shaped necklace units and pendants of whale teeth, unshaped or shaped by carving a sliver from the lower end.

Shaped whale-tooth pendants are found in the earliest phase of Marquesan culture ad —as are small perforated shell disks that might have been attached to the coronets typical of later periods. These are posed frontally, have circular faces with clumsily delineated features, and may date from about the 10th century. They would seem to be representative of an ancestral Polynesian carving style and are the earliest sculpture from Hawaii.

Monumental stone figures of gods, in a style that persisted into the 19th century, were being carved and installed on marae in the Marquesas about Easter Islandremote and isolated, is the site of the most famous monuments of the Pacific. Work on the statues, which were carved from a soft volcanic stone, seems to have begun about ad The first figures were relatively small, about 2 metres high; later statues were as much as 12 metres high. Necks are barely indicated; the faces have deep-set eyes, long pointed noses, and massive chins.

The statues originally had barrel-shaped topknots of red stone and eyes of white shell and black stone. The Easter Island tradition of statue carving came to an end by aboutprobably as a result of a serious breakdown of the culture caused by internecine wars.

Sculptures cut from volcanic rock, Easter Island. The use of tapa cloth was presumably common, and tattooing was practiced.

relationship of art and ritual in oceanic cultures

Fishing lures some carved as fishfishhooks, and adzes follow Polynesian types, and the patu type of club in whalebone existed in both areas. In this early phase, the whale-tooth pendants and reel-shaped ornaments of Polynesia became in New Zealand massive stone versions, which were used as pendants or strung as necklaces. Other stone pendants were divided spheres and plaques with stylized fish or zoomorphs carved in relief.

Wood carving has not survived, although suitable stone chisels have been found. The following phase represented the inception of specifically Maori styles. One indication is an increasing complexity exemplified by the elaboration of whale-tooth pendants.

The original simple forms of central Polynesia became, by the 14th century, the so-called chevron pendants, which were probably worn in symmetrical pairs. The period from BC on, the Lapita people would consolidate and begin to create the contemporary Polynesian cultures of SamoaTongaand Fiji.

Additionally from about BC, trade between the Pacific Islands and mainland Asia was growing, and starting BC, works of the Dongson culture of Vietnamknown for their bronze working, can be found in Oceania, and their imagery has a strong influence on the indigenous artistic tradition.

Records to AD continue to be few, however most artistic tradition are continued to this point, such as New Guinea sculpture and Australian rock art, although the period is characterized by increasing trade and interaction as well as new areas being settled, including Hawaii, Easter Island, Tahiti, and New Zealand.

Starting around AD, the people of Easter Island would begin construction of nearly moai large stone statues. At about AD, the people of Pohnpei, a Micronesian island, would embark on another megalithic construction, building Nan Madola city of artificial islands and a system of canals. Bythe first European explorers begin to reach Oceania.

Although previous artistic and architectural traditions are continued, the various regions would begin to diverge and record more distinct cultures. These sites, found in Arnhem LandAustralia, are divided into three periods: They are dated based on the styles and content of the art. Pre-Estuarine, the oldest, is characterized by imagery in a red ocher pigment.

However, by about BC, increasingly elaborate images begin to appear, marking the beginning of the Estuarine period. These rock paintings served several functions. Some were used in magic, others to increase animal populations for hunting, while some were simply for amusement. One of the more elaborate collections of rock art in this area is the site of Ubirr, a favored camping ground during wet seasons which has had its rock faces painted many times over thousands of years.

Establishing a chronological timeframe for these pieces in most cases is difficult, but one has been dated to BC. The content of the sculptures fit into three categories: The tops of many pestles contain images, often of birds or human heads.