Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Ancestor Figure

early to mid-20th century
Indonesia, Papua Province (Irian Jaya), Munu village, Unir River
Asmat people
Wood, paint, fiber, pig tusk, cassowary quills
H. 49 1/2 x W. 16 1/2 x D. 10 1/2 in. (125.7 x 41.9 x 26.7 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
The squatting position of this figure may be a reference to an incident from an Asmat creation myth in which the culture hero, Fumeripits, carved the first humans in the form of wooden figures joined at the knees and elbows. The form and position of the figure also show similarities to the praying mantis, a symbol of headhunting for the Asmat, since the female beheads the male during mating.

A carver's prestige was second only to that of the most successful warriors, since his activities mirrored those of Fumeripits. Carved images were central to ceremonial life and usually represented recently deceased individuals. The figures served both to commemorate the dead and remind the community that their deaths must be avenged. While the figures depict specific individuals and bear their names, they employ a standardized iconography and are not intended as portraits.
#1174: Kids: Ancestor Figure, Part 1
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#1175: Kids: Ancestor Figure, Part 2
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For Audio Guide tours and information, visit
Th. P.P. van Emden, Netherlands New Guinea; [Henri Kamer, Paris and New York, until 1961]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1961, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1961–1978

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

Smidt, Dirk A.M., ed. Asmat Art: Woodcarvings of Southwest New Guinea. Leiden: Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, 1993.

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, 1, 25-6.

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