Object: Figure

Chuuk Atoll: Mask/Head
Oceania: Micronesia
20th Century
Materials: Coconut

This object is a head carved from a coconut from the Chuuk atoll of Oceania. The islands in the Chuuk atoll make up one of the four states in the Federated States of Micronesia. Over 600 islands comprise the atoll, but only 65 are presently inhabited. During World War II, the islands served as a main base in the South Pacific for the Japanese fleet. As a result, shipwrecks and sunken airplanes line the ocean floor and have made the islands a popular destination for scuba diving enthusiasts. Travel to Chuuk is possible through Air Micronesia and travel between the islands is often done by kayak. The term “Chuuk” (or “Truk” as it is sometime pronounced) is actually a mispronunciation of the Chuukese word “Ruk” which means mountain. Though the official language of the islands is English, many islanders speak Chuukese or other native languages. To hear an example of Chuukese, click on the video below for the song “C.O.M.” produced by NesianModel Productions .

Coconut trees are plentiful on the islands and dried coconut (“copra“) is one of the few exports. In the object pictured above, the face is carved into the front of the coconut, and the fringe for the beard, hair, and eyebrows is carved from the husk around the base and back of the coconut. The eyes, mouth, and teeth of the figure are painted, and the nose and creases around the mouth are burned with a woodburner to blacken the surfaces. Wood-worked figures, such as this one, are commonly produced for tourism and provide a source of income to many islanders.

[Lauren Simons]

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