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Ancestor Figure

Date:
early to mid-20th century
Geography:
Indonesia, Papua Province (Irian Jaya), Munu village, Unir River
Culture:
Asmat people
Medium:
Wood, paint, fiber, pig tusk, cassowary quills
Dimensions:
H. 49 1/2 x W. 16 1/2 x D. 10 1/2 in. (125.7 x 41.9 x 26.7 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.206.1589
  • Description

    The squatting position of this figure may be a reference to an incident from an Asmat creation myth in which the culture hero, Fumeripits, carved the first humans in the form of wooden figures joined at the knees and elbows. The form and position of the figure also show similarities to the praying mantis, a symbol of headhunting for the Asmat, since the female beheads the male during mating.

    A carver's prestige was second only to that of the most successful warriors, since his activities mirrored those of Fumeripits. Carved images were central to ceremonial life and usually represented recently deceased individuals. The figures served both to commemorate the dead and remind the community that their deaths must be avenged. While the figures depict specific individuals and bear their names, they employ a standardized iconography and are not intended as portraits.

  • Provenance

    Th. P.P. van Emden, Netherlands New Guinea; [Henri Kamer, Paris and New York, until 1961]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1961, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1961–1978

  • See also
    What
    Where
    When
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
    MetPublications
313808

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