This is a classic Iatmul canoe prow from a small canoe - a superbly naturalistic crocodile head with inset cowrie shell eyes. The white paint was probbaly salvagd from some ex-pat's home redecorating project.
This prow dates to the 1940s 0r 1950s, just before the old paddle canes befan to be replaced by outboard motors and even aluminium boats. In this example, the underside of the brow bears trhe scars the scars of years of being hauled up on to the river bank or scraping over rocks nad submerged logs. Length 46 cm / 18 inches,width 16cm /10 inches.
The Iatmul-speaking people of the Middle Sepik are known as a the crocodile men of PNG.They believe their sprit ancestor was a crocodile who stood erect on his hind feet and transformed into a man. For this reason they identify strongly with crocodiles and swim fearlessly in the Sepik with them, confident that they will not be harmed or attacked, and even have their backs cicatrised with a razor blade to represent crocodile scales when they are initiated.
Not surprisingly, the most common prow on the Middle Sepik when the wooden dugout canoes were exclusively used was the head of a crocodile - so the canoe was a wooden crocodile swimming with the living crocodiles.