May African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Auction At Bonhams New York

Bonhams, is to auction nearly 200 lots of African, Oceanic & Pre-Columbian Art on May 15 in New York.

An important and rare wooden Maori Handclub ‘wahaika’ from New Zealand, formerly in the James Hooper Collection, leads the sale (est. $50,000-70,000). Maori handclubs were historically used by warriors in hand to hand combat. This particular club, likely dating from the 18th century or earlier, was purchased by Hooper in Surrey in 1948 and published in “Art and Artifacts of the Pacific, Africa and the Americas: The James Hooper Collection,” London, 1976. It is a finely stone-carved example in classic form, in large proportion, with janus tiki faces on its handle and an exquisite tiki with intricate curvilinear designs and openwork carving above the handle that is pierced through for attachment of cordage.

The exquisite ceremonial paddles on offer from the Austral Islands are sure to a generate interest among collectors. Well-known in museum and private collections, these delicate and variable paddles probably never served a practical purpose, but rather functioned as emblems of status in traditional dances. Available in myriad design varietals, each paddle is an expression of its individual carver.

The sale’s highlights continue with three exceptional works from the Collection of Marcia and John Friede, New York, including an early and large Iatmul female figure from the Middle Sepik River Region of Papua New Guinea, estimated at $40,000-60,000. The figure, which is nearly 5 feet tall, stands in an upright posture with feet pointing downwards and likely served as a suspension hook. Iatmul suspension hooks have both utilitarian and ceremonial functions. Suspended from rafters by a cord, they are used to safeguard food, clothing and other items placed in baskets or string bags that are hung from the hook-shaped prongs at the base to keep them out of reach of vermin. Most hooks are adorned with representations of ancestral spirits and totemic animals associated with an owner’s clan. In the past, some suspension hooks served as sacred images through which the supernatural beings they depicted could be consulted.

Another strong work in the sale, from the Central Highlands/Atlantic Watershed Zone, circa A.D. 1000-1500, is an impressive, monumental Costa Rican warrior carved from stone and carrying a trophy head, standing at a height of 40 1/4 inches, estimated at $30,000-50,000. Portrait-like stone figures increased in Costa Rica as clay ones declined. Some were used on or at the base of what were probably circular ceremonial mounds, while other figures possibly served as penates, or household gods.

A noteworthy earthenware work to be offered is an impressive Maya quadripod basal-flanged bowl with a water bird finial on its cover, Early Classic, circa A.D. 250 – 650, with polychrome paint (est. $15,000-20,000). Once in the notable collection Brenda and Wally Zollman, it depicts a water bird with a fish on the lid ready to be caught, decapitated heads, and other motifs and symbols of fertility, death and sacrifice in the Mayan world. Also unique in the sale is a rare earthenware Nayarit work of a conjoined couple preparing corn, Protoclassic, circa 100 B.C.-A.D. 250, estimated at $25,000-35,000.

Also of great note is an extremely rare stone hook pendant, ‘palaoa,’ from the Hawaiian Islands, estimated at $20,000-30,000. It could date back to the 17th century or earlier, making it one of the oldest known hook pendants from Hawai’i. This very early example of the iconographic Hawaiian form, most commonly carved from marine ivory, was collected by J.E. Reinecke, while he was conducting an archeological survey of Kona, Hawaii in 1929-1930.
Rounding out the sale is a fine variety of masterfully worked Pre-Columbian gold from Central and South America.

For further information, a fully illustrated catalog will be available online in the weeks preceding the auction at
The preview for the auction will take place May 11-14 at Bonhams New York.

On the evening preceding the auction, Bonhams will show and host a presentation by Vilsoni Hereniko, writer and producer of the documentary “Moana: The Rising of the Sea” focused upon the rising of the sea due to climate change and its effects on the Polynesian Islands.