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 involve the display of wood heads with neck-like stalks. In some cases, ceramic yena heads are also used. The mindja ceremony involves plank-like figures, such as this one, 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, New York, and Papua New Guinea, until 1965]; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–1978
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. 184.
Newton, Douglas. Crocodile and Cassowary; Religious Art of the Upper Sepik River, New Guinea. New York: Museum of Primitive Art, 1971, no. 162, p. 100.
The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 139.
Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones, and Kate Ezra. The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987, no. 16, p. 28.
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, 32, 68-9.