Lot: 23

Rare friction drum "livika" or "lunet"

Papua New Guinea - Bismarck Archipelago - New Ireland

Provenance Size Hammer price
Maximilian ("Max") Franz Thiel (1865-1939), Hamburg, Germany
Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, Germany (1908)
Ludwig Bretschneider, Munich, Germany (1970)
Munich Private Collection

Maximilian Franz Thiel was the son of Rosetta Albertina Hernsheim, the sister of Eduard and Franz Hernsheim, the founders of the trading company Hernsheim & Co. From 16 January 1884, he worked for the company on Jaluit (Marshall Islands). In 1886 he went to German New Guinea, where he lived on Matupi(t) near Rabaul and in the Bismarck Archipelago. He became a partner in Hernsheim & Co in 1892 and managing director by 1903 at the latest. On 16 May 1910, Thiel left German New Guinea and returned to Germany, where he managed the Hernsheim company as director until 1932. He died in Hamburg in 1939.

Ethnographic collections were an important side business for Thiel and Hernsheim & Co. Objects from Thiel's collections can be found today in many museums in Europe and the United States.

Between 1911 and 1921, the Museum für Völkerkunde Hamburg received over 450 objects from Germany's Pacific colonies through Thiel, which the museum claims were "high-quality donations". Felix von Luschan, who was responsible for the Africa and Oceania collections of the Ethnological Museum in Berlin, was also supplied with ethnographic artefacts by Thiel. Another of Thiel's customers was Karl von Linden, whose ethnological collection was to lead to the founding of the Linden Museum in Stuttgart.
H: 19.7 inch 45000 EUR

wood, pigments, shell inlay (renewed on one side), handwritten inventory no. and annotation (triplicate):
"57240 Neu Mecklenburg M. Thiel.", signs of usage and age, insect caused damage in places

Information on this object from the inventory book of the Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, according to Ulrich Menter as follows: "Neu Mecklenburg, Schleinitz-Gebirge". The Linden-Museum received the object on 8 February 1908 as a gift from Consul Max Thiel, Matupi. It was given in exchange to Ludwig Bretschneider on 17 December 1970.

Made only on the island New Ireland north of New Guinea, this superb idiophone friction drum is unique to Oceania.

It consists of a wooden block from the top of which a series of three or four sound-producing wedges (or tongues) have been carved. These wedges, each cut to a different size, are separated from each other and have small spaces hollowed out underneath. A musician would have played the drum by moistening one of his hands with plant sap and rubbing it across the wedges, creating a unique blend of tones reminiscent of the cry of the bird for which the drum was named.

The instruments were also called "lapka", "lounnet" and "lianuat" depending on their region of origin, these names referring to birds. The otherwordly sound served as an intercession between the physical and spirit worlds, with the call of the bird representing the voice of the spirits of the dead.

This holy instrument is fully incorporated within the "malagan" traditions on the Tabar Islands, as well as on the mainland from the Madak area (especially the Lelet Plateau) north to the Nalik-speaking region (according to Gunn, Paris 2006, p. 192 f.).


Gunn, Michael, New Ireland, Paris 2006, p. 192 f. Gunn, Michael, Ritual Arts of Oceania - New Ireland, Geneva, Milan 1997, p. 92 f.