Art/ Collection/ Art Object
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House Post Figure

Date:
19th century
Geography:
Indonesia, New Guinea, Papua Province (Irian Jaya), Lake Sentani
Culture:
Sentani people
Medium:
Wood
Dimensions:
H. 34.25 x W. 11 1/4 x D. 11 in. (111.8 x 28.6 x 27.9 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.206.1444
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
In the past, the grandest structures in most villages of the Sentani people of Lake Sentani in northwest New Guinea were the houses of hereditary chiefs. Like all Sentani dwellings, they were built over the water and were supported by wood pilings. Chiefs' houses were lavishly decorated with architectural carvings of two
basic types: house post figures, such as the present work, which adorned the tops of the pilings that supported the floor, and tall Y-shaped posts, which supported the central roof beam.
Likely depicting an important clan ancestor, this image once adorned the top of a Sentani house post. When in use, the lower portion of the post was embedded in
the lake-bed and the carved image protruded through the floor of the house. In Sentani oral tradition, the first ancestors lived underground and emerged to populate the earth. The placement and imagery of the posts, whose ancestral figures rose from the earth to emerge through the floor of the dwelling, may have been a symbolic reference to that story.
Left:
House Post Figure
Sentani people, probably Kabiterau village,
Lake Sentani, New Guinea, Papua (Irian Jaya)
Province, Indonesia, 19th century
Wood
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of
Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1440)
Ex coll.: Pierre Loeb, Paris, collected by Jacques Viot in 1929
Right:

House Post Figure
Sentani people, Lake Sentani, New Guinea,
Papua (Irian Jaya) Province, Indonesia,
19th century
Wood
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of
Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.1444)
Ex coll.: Jacques Viot, Paris, collected 1924-29



New Guinea: Lake Sentani
The Sentani people live in villages built out over the waters
of Lake Sentani, a large lake just inland from Humboldt Bay
on the northwest coast of New Guinea. Constructed on
wood pilings, houses and other structures in Sentani villages
are linked together by boardwalks, allowing the residents to
reach any part of the village without the use of canoes.
Until the early 1920s, the most imposing structures in
Sentani villages were the houses of the ondoforo, hereditary
chiefs who were both the political and religious leaders of
society. Although ordinary dwellings were unadorned, the
houses of the ondoforo often were lavishly decorated with
architectural sculpture. The Sentani also had a rich tradition
of decorative art, creating beautifully decorated bowls,
canoes, paddles, bark cloth, and personal accessories, which
often were decorated with distinctive S-shaped spirals. The
imagery of Sentani art often shows close stylistic affinities
with that of the peoples of Humboldt Bay, with whom they
regularly interacted.
Collected 1929 by Dr. Jacques Viot, Paris, probably for Pierre Loeb; [John J. Klejman, New York, until 1956]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1956, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1978

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