Male Figure, 16th–early 19th century
Inyai–Ewa people, Korewori River, Middle Sepik region, Papua New Guinea
Wood; H. 47 1/2 in. (121 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1965 (1978.412.856)
The ancient wood sculptures of the Inyai-Ewa and neighboring groups of the upper Korewori River in northeast New Guinea, are the earliest Melanesian wood carvings to survive in any substantial numbers. Kept in rockshelters, which protected them from the elements, the figures were primarily created between the sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The images occur in several forms and portray a variety of supernatural beings. Two-legged male figures such as the present work, which differ from the more common one-legged male figures known as aripa, likely portray primordial clan ancestors. Created to be viewed primarily in profile, the trunk of this figure shows an early expression of the "opposed hook" style that became the characteristic feature of later wood sculpture in the Korewori region. In the later figures, the opposed hooklike forms are said to represent the ribs, while the central projection they surround represents the heart and this earlier figure may portray similar imagery.