south Moluccas, Indonesia
Canoe prow with dragon image
160.0 (h) x 110.0 (w) x 6.0 (d) cm
Musée Barbier Mueller, Geneva
© Musée Barbier-Mueller Photograph: Studio Ferrazzini Bouchet
Boats hold great symbolic importance for the fishing communities of Tanimbar. Villages are likened to boats and their inhabitants to crews, and boat-shaped stone altars are the focus of ritual and communal gatherings.
Due to the hazardous nature of sea voyages, vessels are decorated with images of protection and anointed with magic potions. Particular attention is paid to the creation of large wooden prows featuring mythical creatures from the complementary upper and lower realms. A sea serpent with starkly defined teeth appears within the curvilinear patterns of this prow. Synonymous with the watery depths of the cosmos, reptiles are protective motifs and female symbols of fertility.