Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Ceremonial Fence Element

Date:
late 19th–early 20th century
Geography:
Papua New Guinea, Kararau village, Middle Sepik River
Culture:
Iatmul people, Woliagwi (?)
Medium:
Wood, paint
Dimensions:
H. 41 5/8 x W. 12 1/4 x D. 4 3/4 in. (105.7 x 31.1 x 12.1cm)
Classification:
Wood-Architectural
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1972
Accession Number:
1978.412.717
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
Although few examples still stand today, in former times,
Iatmul villages typically had three men’s ceremonial houses
set on the village dancing ground. At either end of each
ceremonial house, the Iatmul constructed a raised earthen
mound, which was planted with totemic trees and plants.
In some rituals, the ceremonial house was likened
metaphorically to a canoe floating on the river, which was
moored by tying it to a tree growing on the mound.
In some instances, the mound was enclosed by a wood
fence, whose components included post-like wood images
depicting brightly painted heads or busts portraying
ancestral spirits. The geometric patterns on the head of
the example seen here resemble the face-paint patterns
worn by the Iatmul on important occasions.
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1956 (possibly)]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1956, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1972; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1972–1978

Robert L. Welsch, ed. An American Anthropologist in Melanesia: A.B. Lewis and the Joseph N. Field South Pacific expedition, 1909–1913. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1998.

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