Massim Working Adzes

(PA009, PA010, PA011, PA012)

Description of item:

















































Collection of smaller utilitarian adzes from the Massim region; carved hardwood handles; three (3) of the axes’ blades are fitted with a piece of cast iron in place of the polished greed stone blades, whilst one (1) is cut from shell; fibre or old steel barrel band around the base of blades; c. 1950’s. They are sold individually or as collection.


Axe PA009

​Length (axe): 50 cm (19.6 inches)

​Width (axe): 24 cm (9.4 inches

​​Axe P010

​Length (axe): 46 cm (18 inches)

​Width (axe): 25 cm (9.8 inches)

​​Axe P011

​Length (axe): 38 cm (15 inches)

​Width (axe): 22 cm (8.6 inches)

​Axe P012

​​Length (axe): 36 cm (14 inches)

​Width (axe): 19 cm (7.4 inches)


These adzes are prized and evaluated according to their size, their thinness and subtle mottling of their blades. The finest ones often had personal names. They were often exchanged to purchase commodities such as pigs, canoes or land, or to pay for dance performances.


On Sabarl, the shape of ceremonial axes, known locally as tobwatobwa, represents both the outward form and the vital power of the human body. The blade usually symbolizes the right hand or reproductive organs. The fiber around the base of the blade is called the hand, and the ascending portion of the shaft represents the arm. The top of the axe forms the head, the handgrip represents the leg, and the carved finial at the end is the foot.


Seligmann, C.G. ‘The Melanesians of British New Guinea’, (1910: 33).

Kjellgren, E. ‘Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’, (2007: 121-122).

​Armstrong, W. E. ‘Rossel Islands: An Ethnological Study’, (1928: 12).


Private Australian collection.



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