Austral Islands ceremonial kava ladle

An Austral Islands ceremonial kava ladle sold for £3300 at Irita Marriott Auctioneers.

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Competed for online, it was underbid by an Australian bidder and eventually knocked down at £3300 to a buyer on at Irita Marriott Auctioneers in Melbourne, Derbyshire, on April 19.

The 2ft 4in (76cm) long ceremonial ladle from the Austral Islands features a curved leaf shaped paddle with extensively carved decoration and a rectangular pommel carved with six crouching figures.

Marriott said the paddle was found on the floor in a home having been stored in a cupboard for six years. Following the fall of the gavel, the room cheered and applauded.

The five inhabited Austral Islands in the southernmost region of French Polynesia are famous for their distinctive wood carvings, particularly the paddles, which were keenly sought by 19th century Western collectors.

Austral Islands ceremonial kava ladle

A detail of an Austral Islands ceremonial kava ladle sold for £3300 at Irita Marriott Auctioneers.

Ladles are less common. It is believed they were used to serve kava, an sedative-type drink made from kava root. Similar examples have come to auction including at Sotheby’s New York in April 2021 when a ladle previously in the collections of dealer and collector Kevin Conru and New York anthropologists and collectors Abraham Rosman and Paula Rubel, sold for $35,000.

The intricate carvings by Austral Islanders were completed using shark tooth, shell, and stone tools.

Most carved examples in western collections were made as trade goods between the 1820-40s when hundreds of paddles were collected for European museums and dealers.

The exchange and trade of goods from the islands ultimately came with a disastrous outcome for islanders. Following first contact in the late 1700s, the spread of disease led to the indigenous population declining from an estimated 10,000-15,000 to only 1250 by 1840.