Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Grade Figure (Maghe ne Naun or Maghe ne Hivir)

early to mid-20th century
Vanuatu, Ambrym Island
Ambrym Island
Fernwood, earth, paint
H. 109 x W. 18 1/2 x D. 17 1/2 in. (276.9 x 47 x 44.5 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1972
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
Much of the art of central and northern Vanuatu in the southwest Pacific is associated with grade rituals, a hierarchical series of initiations, each of which confers successively greater religious and political authority during life and in the realm of the dead. In some areas, individuals who have reached the highest grades are considered the living dead, having already achieved the status of ancestors.
Men’s and women’s grade rituals exist in most areas, but sculpture is created almost exclusively for men’s grade rites. This figure is carved from fern wood, the fibrous trunk of a tree fern composed of aerial roots surrounding a woody core. During the grade rites, grade figures are erected on the dancing ground and serve as temporary abode for the spirits associated with the grade. After the ceremony, the figure, its purpose served, is left on the dancing ground, its supernatural powers waning as it slowly disintegrates. Collected soon after it was used, this particular figure retains portions of its original paint.
[Henri Kamer, Paris and New York, until 1959]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1959, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1972; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1972–1978

Speiser, F. Die Kleinwüchsigen Asiens (Andamanen, Malacca, Philippinen, Wedda) und Beschreibung einzelner Inselgruppen Melanesiens [The Pygmy People of Asia in the Andamans, Malacca, the Philippines and Vedda, as well as a description of some Melanesian Island Groups. Basel, Switzerland, 1930.

Deacon, Bernard, and George Routledge and Sons. Malekula, a Vanishing People in the New Hebrides, edited by Camilla H. Wedgwood. London, 1934.

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. 35.

Paton, W.F. Customs of Ambrym: Texts, Songs, Games,and Drawings. Pacific Linguistics Series, Vol. vol. 22. Canberra: The Australian National University, 1979, P. 21-22.

Bonnemaison, Joël. "Graded Societies and Societies Based on title: forms and Rites of Traditional Power in Vanuatu." In Arts of Vanuatu. Bathurst: Crawford House Publishing, 1996, pp. 200–11.

Kjellgren, Eric. "From Fanla to New York and Back: Recovering the Authorship and Iconography of a Slit Drum from Ambrym Island, Vanuatu." Journal of Museum Ethnography vol. 17 (2005), pp. 118-29. p. 129, n.4.

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, 107, 180-2.

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, p. 86.

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