Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Ancestor Pole

Date:
ca. 1961
Geography:
Indonesia, Casuarina Coast, Papua Province (Irian Jaya)
Culture:
Asmat
Medium:
Wood, paint
Dimensions:
H. 6 x W. 7 1/2 x L. 126 in. (15.20 x 19.1 x 32 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection; Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller and Mrs. Mary C. Rockefeller, 1965
Accession Number:
1978.412.1255
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
This horizontal ancestor pole depicts a stylized crocodile, its body covered
with elaborate designs that include headhunting symbols. The head of the
crocodile is surmounted by a small human figure depicting an ancestor. The form of the ancestor figure with its slender elongated body and bent limbs also refers to the shape of a praying mantis. Praying mantises, whose females sometimes bite off the heads of the males after mating, were potent symbols of headhunting, which was formerly practiced by the Asmat. The precise nature and significance of such
crocodile-shaped ancestor poles are uncertain. However, they may have been
used in ceremonial contexts similar to the larger bis poles. If so, like bis poles, they probably served both to commemorate the dead and, in the past, to remind the living that the deceased must be avenged through a retaliatory raid on the enemy.
Michael C. Rockefeller Expedition, collected 1961; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1961–1965; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–1978

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