Headdress (Kapurei [?])

Date: late 19th–early 20th century

Geography: Papua New Guinea, New Britain, Gazelle Peninsula

Culture: Sulka people

Medium: Wood, paint

Dimensions: H. 43 1/2 x W. 10 1/4 x D. 8 3/4 in. (110.5 x 26 x 22.2 cm)

Classification: Wood-Sculpture

Credit Line: Gift of Evelyn A. J. Hall, 1981

Accession Number: 1981.331.1


In their ceremonial arts, the Sulka people of northern New Britain consciously seek to achieve magnificence, striving to maximize the visual impact on the viewer. Brightly colored and ephemeral, Sulka ritual arts are created for one-time use in dances and ceremonies, where their fleeting beauty allows the audience to briefly glimpse the divine. Afterwards, the objects are destroyed or, in the postcontact period, at times sold to outsiders.

Portraying a praying mantis (kovio), possibly a clan emblem, this work is a headdress, which was worn on top of the head like a helmet. Although its exact use is uncertain, it was probably a kapurei, a conical headdress that formed the base for a large ceremonial dance wand (rei) as much as nine feet (3 meters) high that was attached to the undecorated projection at the top.