Female Figure for Yam Ceremony (Noukwi)
- 19th–early 20th century
- Papua New Guinea, Washkuk Hills, Middle Sepik River region
- Wood, paint
- H. 50 1/8 in. (127.3 cm)
- Credit Line:
- The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
- Accession Number:
The Kwoma, Nukuma, and Yessan-Mayo peoples of the Washkuk Hills region north of the upper Sepik River in northeast New Guinea share a distinctive artistic tradition centered on an annual sequence of ceremonies devoted to the cultivation of yams.
A supernaturally powerful food, yams cannot be eaten until the spirits responsible for their growth have been appropriately honored. Following the yam harvest, the spirits are celebrated in a sequence of three ceremonies, yena, mindja, and noukwi. Each ceremony requires the creation of a specific type of figure. In the first two rituals, yena and mindja, the figures are lavishly adorned and displayed atop a large basket-like structure containing part of the yam crop. The yena rites involve the display of wood heads with neck-like stalks. In some cases, ceramic yena heads are also used. The mindja ceremony involves plank-like figures with yena-like faces and bodies adorned with diamond-shaped motifs representing banana leaves and undulating forms depicting the coils of snakes. The final ceremony, noukwi, restricted to senior initiated men, involves the display of female figures, such as the one seen here.