The Kwoma, Nukuma, and Yasyin-Mayo peoples of the Washkuk Hills region north of the upper Sepik River share a distinctive artistic tradition centered on an annual sequence of ceremonies devoted to the cultivation of yams. A supernaturally powerful food, yams cannot be eaten until the spirits responsible for their growth have been appropriately honored. Following the yam harvest, the spirits are celebrated in a sequence of three ceremonies, yena, mindja, and noukwi. Each ceremony requires the creation of a specific type of figure. In the first two rituals, yena and mindja, the figures are lavishly adorned and displayed atop a large basket-like structure containing part of the yam crop. The yena rites generally involve the display of wood heads with neck-like stalks. However, in some cases, ceramic yena heads such as the present work are also used. The mindja ceremony involves plank-like figures with yena-like faces and bodies adorned with diamond-shaped motifs representing banana leaves and undulating forms depicting the coils of snakes. The final ceremony, noukwi, restricted to senior initiated men, involves the display of female figures.
[Wayne Heathcote, Australia and Papua New Guinea, until 1965]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1965, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–1969; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 185.
Newton, Douglas. Crocodile and Cassowary; Religious Art of the Upper Sepik River, New Guinea. New York: Museum of Primitive Art, 1971.
Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 88.
Kaufmann, Christian. "Art and Artists in the Context of Kwoma Society." In Exploring the visual art of Oceania : Australia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, edited by Sidney M. Mead. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1979, p. 252, 323.
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, 33, 70.