Lot: 313

Prestige axe "gi okono" or "nbouet"

New Caledonia, Kanak

Provenance Size Hammer price
Alexander Kubetz, Munich, Germany H: 25.2 inch 4000 EUR

polished nephrite, wood, plant fibres, flying fox fur, coconut, bark cloth, handwritten collection no. "A 28(B)5", base

The production of the large round stone blades from nephrite was very complex. The "gi okono" shaft is bound with a sennit fibre into which tufts of flying fox fur were inserted to provide this distinctive brownish red colour.

These magnificent prestige axes, known in French as "haches ostensoirs", were among the most highly prized items of Kanak customary wealth.

They are said to have served as emblems of great chiefs, who brandished them as they intoned speeches or genealogical accounts.They are also said to have been used in ceremonies and as standards in warfare. Maurice Leenhardt in 1930 noted that these prestige objects were kept in a basket of wealth belonging to important lineages, and that they were only removed on key occasions such as mourning ceremonies and weddings during which affirmation of status occurred.

Some sources claim that these axes represent the Kanaks view of the cosmos. The blade represents the top of a tree or "upper world" and the butt of the handle represents the Earth. The handle or trunk forms a link between the Earth and the sky, connecting physical and spiritual worlds.


Musée du Quai Branly (ed.), Kanak, Paris 2013, p. 159 "Who owned it before you bought it ? - Part 2 - An occasional series, by Harry Beran, identifying register numbers inscribed on tribal artworks", in: OAS Newsletter Vol. 3, No. 2, p. 9