Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Female Figure (Tetepeku)

19th–early 20th century
Papua New Guinea, Prince Alexander Mountains, Middle Sepik River
Abelam people
Wood, paint
H. 42 1/2 x W. 23 x D. 7 in. (108 x 58.4 x 17.8 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1962
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
The complex male initiation cycle of the Abelam people is restricted to men. However, its sacred spaces and sculptures are often suffused with female symbolism and imagery. In the highest initiation rites, tetepeku, slender female images with long legs spread wide, are erected inside the men’s ceremonial house above the main entrance and the entrances to the interior passages and initiation chamber. As they enter the house or initiation chamber, the male initiates stoop or crawl beneath the tetepeku, emerging from between her legs into the sacred space beyond, an act likely symbolic of the rebirth of the novices as initiated men. Once past the tetepeku, the full splendor of the initiation chamber, with its brilliantly colored paintings and carvings representing the clan spirits (nggwalndu) and other supernatural beings is revealed. Although smaller than most examples, this figure is almost certainly a tetepeku. Repainted many times, it likely witnessed the transformation of generations of novices into initiated men.
[John J. Klejman, New York, until 1962]; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1962–1978

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. 189.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 26.

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, 28, 64.

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