Kulap figures represented individuals who had died recently. They were distinctive to southern New Ireland, and were used throughout the region. The figures were created by specialists living near the limestone quarries in the Rossel Mountains. When a family member died, a male relative journeyed to the mountains and acquired a male or female kulap, depending on the sex of the deceased. After he returned home, the figure was erected, together with other kulap, within a shrine inside a ceremonial building surrounded by an enclosure. The kulap images served as temporary abodes for the spirits of the dead, which might otherwise wander, causing harm to the living. Only men could view the figures, but women often gathered outside the compound to mourn their lost relatives. After an appropriate period of time, the figures were destroyed or, during the colonial period, often sold to Westerners.
Richard Parkinson Collection; Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, Germany; [Matthias Komor, New York, before 1967]; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1967–1978