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Ceremonial Fence Element

Date:
late 19th–early 20th century
Geography:
Papua New Guinea, Kararau village, Middle Sepik River
Culture:
Iatmul people
Medium:
Wood, paint, shell
Dimensions:
H. 60 1/2 in. (153.7 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Architectural
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969
Accession Number:
1978.412.716
  • Description

    Although few examples still stand today, in former times
    the villages of the Iatmul people typically had three men’s
    ceremonial houses set on the village dancing ground. At
    either end of each one, the Iatmul constructed a raised
    earthen mound, which was planted with totemic trees and
    plants. In some rituals, the ceremonial house was likened
    metaphorically to a canoe floating on the river, which was
    “moored” by tying it to a tree growing on the mound.
    In some instances, the mound was enclosed by a wood
    fence whose components included post-like wood images
    portraying the brightly painted heads or busts of ancestral
    spirits. The ancestor on view here is wearing elements
    of ceremonial finery. The geometric patterns on the head
    resemble the face-paint patterns worn by the Iatmul on
    important occasions. The chest is adorned with a series of
    crescent-shaped elements representing pearl-shell ornaments.

  • Provenance

    [Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1952]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1952, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1969; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978

  • See also
    Who
    What
    Where
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
    MetPublications
311162

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