Indonesia, Casuarina Coast, Papua Province (Irian Jaya)
H. 6 x W. 7 1/2 x L. 126 in. (15.20 x 19.1 x 32 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection; Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller and Mrs. Mary C. Rockefeller, 1965
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