Carved Coconut Head

Genuine ritual object or made for tourists?

This is a Yorkshire World Collections object, one of 100 chosen by young people aged 16-24, as part of the London Cultural Olympiad programme Stories of the World.

This head from the Indian Ocean islands is made out of a fruit or seed pod similar to a coconut, which has been carved and painted into an ugly head. It was donated to Bagshaw Museum near Batley by a local man in 1933. 

This is a confusing object about which we know very little. We are not sure whether it is genuinely important as a 'ritual' object or whether it may have been created for the tourist trade. These kinds of carved heads are quite common objects in museum collections and they could be either genuine or tourist items.

Curriculum links:

KS2 Geography - Locational knowledge - using a world map
KS3 Art & Design - 
History of art, craft, design from ancient times up to the present day
KS3 Religious Education - 
Pupils will investigate the impact of religious beliefs and teachings on individuals, communities and societies, the reasons for commitment and the causes of diversity

Discussion ideas:

(These discussion ideas could be used as starters to explore the object in a mind-mapping exercise.)
  • What do you think this is?
  • Is it a genuine object made for important rituals or an object made to sell to tourists? 
  • Look carefully at the object and see what sort of clues you can pick up from it (e.g. Can you see that the head has a string to hang it up by?)
  • What do you think of the object?
  • What could it be used for?
  • Why is it hard to know whether this is 'genuine' or not?

Activity ideas:

  • Debate:
    Think of both sides of the argument for and against this head being 'genuine'. List as many reasons as you can for explaining why the head might be genuine, then do the same for why it might also be considered a 'fake'.
  • Geographical research:
    This carved head came from an Indian Ocean island. If you search online for images of carved coconut heads, some are from Pacific Islands like Hawaii, others from Micronesia in Oceana.
    - What do you think it is about these carvings that makes it possible that they could have come from either place?
    - Use the map below to compare oceans, and to find Micronesia.

  • Compare this carving with other Yorkshire World Collection objects from remote places, like this carved figure or this mask.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Bagshaw Museum | 
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