The islands off the extreme southeastern tip of New Guinea were linked by the kula trading cycle, which distributed not only shell valuables—the ostensible motive of the transactions—but also quantities of other goods. Notable among these were hardwood carvings.

 Because of the isolation imposed by their island existence the Trobriand Islanders undertook these potentially dangerous voyages to participate in kula (an exchange of white conus-shell arm ornaments for red chama-shell necklaces) trading.  The Trobrianders thus lavished a great deal of effort on decorating their large sea-faring canoes and their main houses, decorations today displayed in museums around the world.

They create a variety of hand carved goods from bowls to tools, and carved statues usually delicate and elongated with curiously convoluted figures sculpted out of ebony, kwila or rosewood. Intricately carved ebony walking sticks, which are particularly well finished, are power symbols used by the chiefs. Occasionally there are some finely carved erotic scenes on ebony but these are rarely seen. Lime containers made from minutely incised gourds and betel nut equipment, in high demand among collectors, are prizes we were lucky to find and bring back.

These people are master carvers using mostly very rudimentary equipment to work with such as rusted nails from shipwrecks, broken shells found on the beaches and shark or searay skin to polish their carving to a sheen. Their minute and elaborate work makes them some of the best artists in the world.