House Post Figure, 19th century
Kambot (Tin Dama) people, Keram River, Lower Sepik region, Papua New Guinea
Wood, paint, fiber; H. 96 in. (243.8 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969 (1978.412.823)
Men's ceremonial houses were the focus of aritistic and religious life among the Kambot people of the Keram River in northeast New Guinea. Probably the largest surviving work of Kambot sculpture, this figure originally formed part of one of the massive house posts that supported the roof of a ceremonial house. When the original structure decayed, it was cut from the post and preserved as a sacred image.
Kambot house posts portrayed founding ancestors. This work may depict Mobul, an important figure from Kambot oral tradition, or his brother Goyen. The imagery of the figure's head can be interpreted in several ways. The facial features form a double image in which the elongated eyes form the arms of a second, smaller figure whose head appears at the top as a red circle. The nostrils represent the hands of this smaller figure, which grasp the beaklike nose, possibly representing a sacred flute. Sacred flutes were secret objects, so this dual imagery likely carried hidden meaning, known only to initiated men.