Ceremonial container


Not on view

Religious life among the Asmat people of southwestern New Guinea centers on an elaborate series of rituals accompanied by ceremonial feasts. Feast foods are often collected and served in ordinary wood food bowls or simpler vessels made from the bases of sago palm fronds. Some Asmat groups, however, create ornate ceremonial containers like this one to hold grubs (the larvae of the capricorn beetle), an indispensable element of all feasts. To ensure an adequate supply of this prized food, at least six weeks in advance of a feast the Asmat cut down a large quantity of sago palm trees, the trunks of which contain a starchy pith. Holes are drilled into the fallen trunks to allow adult beetles to lay their eggs in the pith, and the people return six weeks later to harvest the fully grown grubs. This container has carved brackets and fiber straps on the reverse that allow it to be carried like a backpack. It was likely used both to collect grubs at the harvest site and to transport them to and present them at the feast. The human figure almost certainly represents a recently deceased ancestor, and the spear he carries suggests he was a warrior.

Ceremonial container, Wood, paint, Asmat

Due to rights restrictions, this image cannot be enlarged, viewed at full screen, or downloaded.

Open Access

As part of the Met's Open Access policy, you can freely copy, modify and distribute this image, even for commercial purposes.


Public domain data for this object can also be accessed using the Met's Open Access API.