The most important sacred objects of the Kerewa people were agiba, flat board-like figures created for the display of human skulls. In the past, headhunting was an integral element of religious practices throughout the Papuan Gulf, honoring the spirits (imunu) whose powers sustained the community. Kerewa men formerly lived in communal men’s houses divided into cubicles in which the members of each clan or subclan slept. Each cubicle housed a clan shrine containing one or more agiba and other sacred objects. The agiba symbolized the vitality and martial prowess of the clan, presiding over the skulls obtained by its members. The skulls were hung from the agiba by loops of rattan placed over the hook-like projections at the base. At times, a platform was constructed below the image to support the weight of the assembled skulls. Only men who had captured an enemy head were entitled to carve agiba. The agiba reportedly represented a spirit that revealed itself to the carver in a dream.
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Title:Skull Hook (Agiba)
Date:19th–early 20th century
Geography:Papua New Guinea, Papuan Gulf, Pai'ia'a village, Omati River, Kikori Delta
Medium:Wood, paint, plant fiber
Dimensions:H. 55 7/8 x W. 29 1/2 x D. 5 in. (141.9 x 74.9 x 12.7 cm)
Credit Line:The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969
Roy James Hedlund, New Guinea, and L. R. Webb, Oakland, CA, until 1962; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1962, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1962–1969; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978
Museum of Primitive Art. "The World of Primitive Art," July 12, 1966–September 11, 1966.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of Oceania, Africa and the Americas from The Museum of Primitive Art," May 10–August 17, 1969.
Museum of Primitive Art. "Sculpture of Oceania," March 31, 1971–September 12, 1971.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Sculpture of Oceania," April 4–September 5, 1972.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of Oceania, Africa and the Americas," September 22, 1972–1974.
Seattle Art Museum. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," January 5, 1975–February 16, 1975.
American Federation of Arts. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," January 5, 1975–May 15, 1977.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," March 23, 1975–May 4, 1975.
Dallas Museum of Art. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," June 8, 1975–July 20, 1975.
Art Institute of Chicago. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," August 25, 1975–October 10, 1975.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," November 9, 1975–December 21, 1975.
Toledo Museum of Art. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," April 11, 1976–May 25, 1976.
Walker Art Center. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," June 27, 1976–August 8, 1976.
Denver Art Museum. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," September 10, 1976–November 7, 1976.
de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. "Primitive Art/Masterworks," March 12, 1977–May 15, 1977.
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "The Art of the Pacific Islands," Sunday, July 1, 1979 - Sunday, October 14, 1979.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fatal Attraction: Piotr Uklański Selects from the Met Collection," March 17–June 14, 2015.
Haddon, Alfred Cort. "The Agiba Cult of the Kerewa Culture." Man vol. 18 (December 1918), pp. 177–83.
Newton, Douglas. Art Styles of the Papuan Gulf. New York: University Publishers, Inc., 1961, pp. 17, 18.
Newton, Douglas. New Guinea Art in the Collection of the Museum of Primitive Art. Handbook (Museum of Primitive Art), Vol. Handbook No. 2. New York: Museum of Primitive Art, 1967, unpaginated, no. 108.
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. 199.
American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 144.
Gathercole, P., Adrienne L. Kaeppler, and Douglas Newton. The Art of the Pacific Islands. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1979, p. 344, no. 25.5.
Friede, John A. New Guinea Art: Masterpieces from the Jolika Collection of Marcia and John Friede. Vol. vol. 2. San Francisco: de Young Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2005, pp. 169, 476.
Bell, Joshua. "Le Golfe de Papouasie." In Ombres de Nouvelle-Guinée: Arts de la Grande Ile d'Océanie dans les Collections Barbier-Mueller, edited by Philippe Peltier, and Floriane Morin. Paris: Somogy Editions d'Art, 2006, pp. 196–217, 420–24, 459–60. p. 423, no. 110.
Robert L. Welsch, Virginia-Lee Webb, and Sebastian Haraha. Coaxing the Spirits to Dance: Art and Society in the Papuan Gulf of New Guinea. Hanover: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 2006–2007, pp. 4-45. p. 43, 460, 462.
Kjellgren, Eric. "The Pacific Resurfaces: New Galleries for Oceanic Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Tribal Art (Winter 2007–2008), pp. 100–101.
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, pp. 123–125, no. 76.
Nuku, Maia. Oceania: The Shape of Time. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2023, p. 157, pl. 92.
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