Spirit Board (Gope)

late 19th–early 20th century
Papua New Guinea, Papuan Gulf, Gibu village, Turama River
Turama people
Wood, paint
H. 65 5/8 in. (166.7 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
The Papuan Gulf region encompasses the arts and cultures
of the Gulf of Papua on the southeast coast of New Guinea.
In the past, the primary focus of religious and artistic life
in the region was on powerful spirits (imunu). Each imunu
typically was associated with a specific location in the
landscape, rivers, or sea, and was linked to the specific
clan within whose territory it dwelt.
Papuan Gulf wood sculpture was primarily two-dimensional,
consisting of board-like carvings and figures with designs in
low relief. The signature art form was the spirit board, an
oblong plank-like object known variously as a gope, koi, or
hohao, depending on the region in which it was made. Each
served as a dwelling place for an individual imunu, whose
image appears on it. Villages formerly had large communal
men’s houses divided into cubicles, each allotted to a
particular clan or subclan. Every cubicle contained a clan
shrine, which housed the spirit boards, figures, human and
animal skulls, and other sacred objects associated with the
clan’s various imunu.
Roy James Hedlund, until 1961; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1961–1978

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. 200.

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. 77, pp. 125–126.

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, pp. 55–57.