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The Dukna that lives in my house (no one “owns” a Dukna) has a watchful and reflective personality and seems to instil in all parties quiet conversations.


The  wooden figure comes from Santa Cruz island (named Nendo in the main language of the island) which is now a far flung part of the Solomon Islands,  in the western Pacific.

“Manga” translates as an image or representation, “Dukna” translates as a supernatural being. Dukna exist in animal and human forms. The wooden figures are not the Dukna themselves, who exist as immortals in a supernatural world, but represent a Dukna and provide a way to talk to them. One of the Dukna’s responsibilities is to guide and advise the people of Nendo who can make requests. For example one Dukna may be associated with shark fishing and so may be asked for help before a fishing trip. If a Dukna helps it will be used again, if it does not appear to help, eventually another Dukna may be made.

The curious feature of most Dukna figures is the elongated head. This may be a stylised representation on an “abe” which was a way of gathering hair together and decorating for high ranking people. The figures would originally have been dressed and decorated as this is how the people thought Manga Dukna’s would have appeared in their own world.

When missionaries arrived in the 19th century they slowly persuaded the inhabitants to discard their beliefs and Duknas were discarded, hidden or given away to missionaries (who often sold them on in Australia and Europe). A few (around 50) Duknas from the 19th and 20th centuries are now found in museums around the world, although I am only aware of one in the Solomon Islands National Museum in Honiara, and that one is not currently on display.

The Manga Dukna who inhabits my home is probably from the 1950’s and may have been made to sell to Europeans but it is difficult to determine the age. Very old figures were carved using shell and stone which produces quite a smooth surface. When iron tools were introduced in the early part of the 20th century, figures typically may have a rougher surface. Figures were often covered in turmeric which has magical properties and so may have areas of orange colour and this is not noticeable on the figure I have.

I made a promise to the seller that when I moved on to another world the Dukna would be returned to the Solomon Islands where it belongs.

Keep a look out in museums for Santa Cruz figures and if you find one talk to it quietly and calmly and, if you wish, ask it for guidance.

If you want to find more information, the authoritative, and as far as I know the only, book on the subject is “Santa Cruz Island Figure Sculpture and Its Social and Ritual Contexts” by William Davenport.

Patricia Vaegi George, one of the curators at the Solomon Islands National Museum, has a wealth of information about the history and cultures of the Solomon Islands.