Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Dugong Hunting Charm

19th century
Australia or Papua New Guinea, Torres Strait, Torres Strait or Fly River region
Kiwai people
L. 24 3/8 in. (61.9 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1961
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
Many western Pacific peoples hunt dugongs, large marine mammals related to the manatee. To provide supernatural aid in the capture of the often elusive animals, peoples in the Torres Strait Islands and some Kiwai groups on the south coast of New Guinea, formerly created dugong hunting charms. By day, dugongs were hunted from canoes. The charms, mounted in the bow, were said to attract or point in the direction of the quarry. In some areas, dugong were hunted at night from offshore platforms on which the hunter stood, harpoon in hand. A dugong charm, suspended beneath the platform, helped to lure the animals within range. This charm depicts a dugong, with its drooping muzzle, together with the head of a bird, possibly the totemic species of its owner.
[Allan Frumkin Gallery, New York, until 1961]; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1961–1978

Newton, Douglas. Art Styles of the Papuan Gulf. New York: University Publishers, Inc., 1961, p. 41.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 203.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 218 center.

Pelrine, Diane. Affinities of Form: Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas from the Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1996.

Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, no. 85, pp. 138–139.

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