Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Flute Stopper

Date:
late 19th–early 20th century
Geography:
Papua New Guinea, Lower Sepik, Yuat River region
Culture:
Biwat people
Medium:
Wood, hair
Dimensions:
H. 21 5/8 x W. 4 1/2 x D. 5 1/2 in. (54.9 x 11.4 x 14 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.206.1415
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, no. 48, pp. 88–89.

Related Objects

Flute Stopper

Artist: Date: late 19th–early 20th century
Accession Number: 1979.206.1415
Date: late 19th–early 20th century Medium: Wood, hair Accession: 1979.206.1415 On view in:Gallery 354

Hook-Mask (Garra or Gra)

Artist: Date: 19th century or earlier
Accession Number: 2014.752
Date: 19th century or earlier Medium: Wood, traces of pigment Accession: 2014.752 On view in:Gallery 354

Flute Mask

Artist: Date: late 19th–early 20th century
Accession Number: 1979.206.1410
Date: late 19th–early 20th century Medium: Wood, paint, seeds, fiber Accession: 1979.206.1410 On view in:Gallery 354

Headdress (Kapurei [?])

Artist: Date: late 19th–early 20th century
Accession Number: 1981.331.1
Date: late 19th–early 20th century Medium: Wood, paint Accession: 1981.331.1 On view in:Gallery 354

Flute Stopper

Artist: Date: late 19th–early 20th century
Accession Number: 1978.412.1545
Date: late 19th–early 20th century Medium: Wood, paint, shell Accession: 1978.412.1545 On view in:Gallery 354