Ancestors were central to the art and religion of the peoples of Astrolabe Bay in northeast New Guinea. Ancestor figures appear to have been associated primarily with men’s ceremonial houses. This work is attributed to Bogadjim village, where ancestor images were honored periodically with ceremonial feasts. During the feasts, occasions of both reverence and revelry, the figures served as temporary abodes for ancestral spirits and were placed among the participants to allow the ancestors to join in the festivities. The figures probably were also associated with male initiation. This work likely portrays a powerful ancestor adorned with the marks of his status and wealth. He wears the spherical headdress reserved for prominent men, and the forms on his chest represent spiral pig’s tusks, which were prized throughout the region.
Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1956, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1978
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. 81.
Smidt, Dirk A.M. Sculptuur uit Afrika en Oceanië: een keuze uit de collecties van leden van de Vereniging Vrienden van Ethnografica. Otterlo: Kröller-Müller Museum, 1990–1991.
Dark, Philip J.C. "Astrolabe Bay, Huon Gulf, and West New Britain." In Arts of the South Seas: Island Southeast Asia, Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia: the Collections of the Musée Barbier-Mueller, edited by Douglas Newton. Munich: Prestel Publishing, 1999.
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, 68, 112-3.