When the people of the Cenderawasih Bay region went to war they would take prisoners. Families would be given a chance to ransom their captured relatives. If there was a risk of escape, the slaves were bound by hand and foot to blocks like this. A cane rope would often be tied around the neck. After a successful raid, and when enemies had been captured, the men would offer their prisoners to the village leader. And it was to him that ransoms were paid.
The precise significance of the block’s crocodile form is unclear. Crocodiles were depicted on boats (symbolising their speed and silence over the water), yet also on drums. They are powerful and dangerous creatures, so that should indicate the kind of reference intended.
In the early 20th century, northwest New Guinea was run by the Dutch administration on Ternate, one of the Moluccan islands. The governor there, the senior administrator, was A.M. Hovenkamp. He had met J.C. van Eerde, director of the Anthropology department of Amsterdam’s Colonial Institute in New Guinea in the 1930s. Following their meeting, he launched an active campaign to collect objects. This fetter is one of the items that he acquired and gave to the Colonial Museum in Amsterdam (today’s Tropenmuseum).
215 x 14 x 18cm (84 5/8 x 5 1/2 x 7 1/16in.)