Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Spirit Canoe (Wuramon)

mid-20th century
Indonesia, Papua Province (Irian Jaya), Yamas village, Utumbuwe River region
Wood, paint, sago palm leaves
H. 20 1/2 x W. 16 x L. 343 1/2 in. (52.1 x 40.6 x 872.5 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
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.
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

Amonus, Amandos, and Leo Bini. "The Wuramon Initiation Feast of Jamasj." In An Asmat Sketch Book, edited by Frank A. Trenkenschuh. Vol. vol. 6. Hastings, NE: Crosier Missions, 1978, pp. 94–99.

Schneebaum, Tobias. Embodied Spirits: Ritual Carvings of the Asmat. Salem, Mass.: Peabody Museum of Salem, 1990.

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, 5, 33-4.

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