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Spirit Canoe (Wuramon)

Date:
mid-20th century
Geography:
Indonesia, Papua Province (Irian Jaya), Yamas village, Utumbuwe River region
Culture:
Asmat
Medium:
Wood, paint, sago palm leaves
Dimensions:
H. 20 1/2 x W. 16 x L. 343 1/2 in. (52.1 x 40.6 x 872.5 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.206.1558
  • Description

    Asmat spirit canoes (wuramon) are ceremonialcarvings in the form of supernatural vessels. Wuramon are created for a one-time use during emak cem (the bone house feast), a ceremony that celebrates the spirits of the recently dead and the initiation of young boys. After being secluded within a ritual house for several months, the boys emerge one by one and crawl across the wuramon on their bellies. As each crosses the vessel, he is transformed from a boy into a man. Once across, he is seized by a man who cuts designs into his body; these heal into permanent scarification patterns that mark him as an adult. Crewed by spirits, the wuramon has no bottom to its hull, as spirits do not require a complete hull for their journey. The spirit figures have a dual nature: their outer forms portray supernatural creatures, but each is named for a specific recently deceased ancestor, whose spirit it embodies. A turtle (mbu), a fertility symbol because of the numerous eggs it lays, appears near the center of this wuramon. Behind it is an okom, a dangerous Z-shaped water spirit. The other figures, gazing down through the bottomless hull, represent menacing water spirits (ambirak) or human-like spirits (etsjo). A hammerhead shark is depicted on the prow.

  • Provenance

    C.M.A. Groenvelt, Causuarinen Coast, Hollandia, New Guinea, until 1956; Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen, Amsterdam, Holland, 1956–1959; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1959, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1978

  • See also
    What
    Where
    When
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
    MetPublications
313777

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