Art/ Collection/ Art Object

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:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
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.
[H.M. Lissauer, Melbourne, Australia, until 1970]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1970, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1970–1978

Newton, Douglas. Crocodile and Cassowary; Religious Art of the Upper Sepik River, New Guinea. New York: Museum of Primitive Art, 1971, no. 181, p. 105.

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