Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Skull Hook (Agiba)

19th–early 20th century
Papua New Guinea, Papuan Gulf, Pai'ia'a village, Omati River, Kikori Delta
Kerewa people
Wood, paint
H. 55 7/8 x W. 29 1/2 x D. 5 in. (141.9 x 74.9 x 12.7 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
Large "agiba" or "skull hooks" were used to display trophy skulls within the men's ceremonial houses of the Kerewa people of the Papuan Gulf region, on the south coast of New Guinea. Agiba depict important ancestors, often the mythical founders of village clans. Each clan owned one or two agiba which were kept in the clan's allotted space within the ceremonial house. The skulls of slain enemies were hung from the agiba with loops of rattan. As time passed, a platform was often constructed in front of the agiba to support the weight of the growing pile of skulls. Together with its skulls, the agiba was both a shrine and a source of supernatural power. The displays of trophy skulls were also status symbols, which marked the clan's prowess in warfare and headhunting.
Roy James Hedlund, New Guinea, and L. R. Webb, Oakland, CA, until 1962; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1962, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1962–1969; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978

Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 199.

Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 76, 123-5.

Kjellgren, Eric. "The Pacific Resurfaces: New Galleries for Oceanic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Tribal Art (Winter 2007–2008), pp. 100-101.

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