Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Spirit Canoe (Wuramon)

Date:
mid-20th century
Geography:
Indonesia, Papua Province (Irian Jaya), Yamas village, Utumbuwe River region
Culture:
Asmat
Medium:
Wood, paint, sago palm leaves
Dimensions:
H. 20 1/2 x W. 16 x L. 343 1/2 in. (52.1 x 40.6 x 872.5 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.206.1558
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
Asmat spirit canoes (wuramon) are ceremonialcarvings in the form of supernatural vessels. Wuramon are created for a one-time use during emak cem (the bone house feast), a ceremony that celebrates the spirits of the recently dead and the initiation of young boys. After being secluded within a ritual house for several months, the boys emerge one by one and crawl across the wuramon on their bellies. As each crosses the vessel, he is transformed from a boy into a man. Once across, he is seized by a man who cuts designs into his body; these heal into permanent scarification patterns that mark him as an adult. Crewed by spirits, the wuramon has no bottom to its hull, as spirits do not require a complete hull for their journey. The spirit figures have a dual nature: their outer forms portray supernatural creatures, but each is named for a specific recently deceased ancestor, whose spirit it embodies. A turtle (mbu), a fertility symbol because of the numerous eggs it lays, appears near the center of this wuramon. Behind it is an okom, a dangerous Z-shaped water spirit. The other figures, gazing down through the bottomless hull, represent menacing water spirits (ambirak) or human-like spirits (etsjo). A hammerhead shark is depicted on the prow.
C.M.A. Groenvelt, Causuarinen Coast, Hollandia, New Guinea, until 1956; Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen, Amsterdam, Holland, 1956–1959; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1959, on permanent loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1978

Schneebaum, Tobias. Embodied Spirits: Ritual Carvings of the Asmat. Salem, Mass.: Peabody Museum of Salem, 1990.

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, 5, 33-4.



Related Objects

Canoe

Date: 1961 Medium: Wood, paint, sago palm leaves Accession: 1978.412.1134 On view in:Gallery 354

Bis Pole

Date: late 1950s Medium: Wood, paint, fiber Accession: 1979.206.1611 On view in:Gallery 354

House Post Figure

Date: 19th century Medium: Wood Accession: 1979.206.1440 On view in:Gallery 354

Ancestor Figure (Korwar)

Date: late 19th–early 20th century Medium: Wood, glass beads Accession: 2001.674 On view in:Gallery 354

Double Figure

Date: ca. 1961 Medium: Wood, sago palm leaves, paint Accession: 1978.412.1156 On view in:Gallery 354