Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Head for Yam ceremony (Yena)

19th–early 20th century
Papua New Guinea, Washkuk Hills, Tongwindjamb village, Middle Sepik River region
Kwoma people
Ceramic, paint
H. 15 1/2 in. (39.4 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
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.

Kaufmann, Christian. Das Töpferhandwerk der Kwoma in Nord-Neuguinea: Beiträge zur Systematik primärer Töpfereiverfahren. Basler Beiträge zur Ethnologie, Vol. vol. 12. Basel: Pharos-Verlag H. Schwabe, 1972, P. 180-182.

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.

Smidt, Dirk A.M. Sculptuur uit Afrika en Oceanië: een keuze uit de collecties van leden van de Vereniging Vrienden van Ethnografica. Otterlo: Kröller-Müller Museum, 1990–1991, pp. 302-4, no. 114,.

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.

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