Ritual Board (Wenena Gerua), ca. 1950
Siane people, Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea
Wood, paint, feathers, fiber; H. 55 1/8 in. (140 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969 (1978.412.741)
Sculpture is rare among the contemporary peoples of the New Guinea Highlands. A notable exception are gerua, ceremonial boards produced by a number of eastern Highland groups. The largest and most important forms, called wenena gerua (human gerua), depict stylized human images. Wenena gerua are worn as headdresses, the U-shaped base fitting over the head of the wearer, who holds the leglike projections to keep it in place. Among the Siane people, gerua form the centerpieces of the Pig Feast, a spectacular ritual performed by each clan once every three years. At the climax of the rites, hundreds of dancers carrying the brightly painted boards perform amidst up to 2,000 spectators.
The human images on wenena gerua can be interpreted either as seated figures with the legs flexed or as standing figures with legs formed by the handles. Each is adorned with a specific pattern of geometric designs, which belongs to the clan that creates it. Carved about 1950, this board is partly decorated with Western trade paint.