Funerary Carving (Malagan)

Date: late 19th–early 20th century

Geography: Papua New Guinea, New Ireland, New Ireland

Culture: Northern New Ireland

Medium: Wood, paint, shell, fiber

Dimensions: H. 34 x W. 5 x D. 11 in. (86.4 x 12.7 x 27.9 cm)

Classification: Wood-Sculpture

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979

Accession Number: 1979.206.1474


The term malagan refers collectively to a complex series of ceremonies in northern New Ireland and the visual art forms associated with them. Various types of malagan rites mark nearly all important stages of an individual's life. Horizontal bird friezes of the type seen here, known as vaval or vuvil, are made in connection with the initial funerary rites that are held shortly after an individual's death. The vaval are displayed atop freestanding poles at the conclusion of the ceremonies, where they serve as kupkup ci malaga (restriction-breaking malagans), which signal the end of the ceremonial restrictions associated with mourning. The most numerous and impressive malagan carvings, however, are commissioned for display during the final memorial ceremony commemorating the deceased, which, due to the great expense involved, is often held months or years after the person's death.