Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Figure (Yipwon)

19th century
Papua New Guinea, Middle Sepik, Korewori River
Alamblak or Yimam people
Wood, paint
H. 96 3/4 x W. 5 x D. 9 in. (245.7 x 12.7 x 22.9 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1972
Accession Number:
Not on view
Kept within the men’s ceremonial house, the distinctive hook figures (yipwon) of the Yimam people of Korewori River region formerly played a central role in hunting and warfare. Depicting powerful ancestral spirits, the figures served as vessels into which the spirits were called before a hunt or raid and presented with offerings. The yipwon then went forth during the night to slay the souls of the game or human enemies, enabling the men to easily kill the actual animals or enemies the following day. If a yipwon was successful, the men showed their gratitude by smearing it with the victims’ blood or offering it a portion of the game. If it failed, the figure was neglected or discarded. Yipwon images portray both external and internal features of the spirits. Although highly stylized, the head and single leg appear relatively naturalistic in comparison with the central section of the body, which typically consists of a series of opposed, concentric hooks depicting the ribs, rotated ninety degrees from their normal orientation and surrounding a central element representing the heart.
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1959]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1972; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1972-1978

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 36–39.

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