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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Flute Stopper

late 19th–early 20th century
Papua New Guinea, Lower Sepik, Yuat River region
Biwat people
Wood, hair
H. 21 5/8 x W. 4 1/2 x D. 5 1/2 in. (54.9 x 11.4 x 14 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
For many New Guinea peoples, flutes are, or were, among the most sacred and important of all musical instruments. Sacred flutes were often made from hollow cylinders of bamboo and played, like a Western flute, by blowing through a hole in the side of the instrument near the upper end. The tops of side-blown flutes were frequently sealed with ornamental flute stoppers. Some of the finest flute stoppers were made by the Biwat people of the Yuat River in northeast New Guinea. Biwat flute stoppers typically portray stylized human images with small bodies and large heads with extremely high domed foreheads. Although they depict human figures, the stoppers adorned ashin, flutes associated with crocodile spirits. Ashin flutes were used, in part, during initiation rites in which novices crawled into the mouth of a large crocodile effigy to be cut by its teeth. The teeth, actually sharp implements wielded by the initiators, made cuts that healed into permanent scarification patterns on the novices’ bodies, marking them as initiated individuals.
[Julius Carlebach Gallery, New York, until 1956]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1956, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1978

Mead, Margaret. "An Importing Culture." In The Mountain Arapesh. Vol. vol. 1. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1938, p. 192, fig. 6.

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, 48, 88-9.

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