A Collection of Amulet Masks Sepik River Area East Sepik Province Papua New Guinea

This Collection of Amulet Masks are from the Sepik River area of the East Sepik Province in Papua New Guinea.  I have collected and saved these masks over the past 38 years of collecting Oceanic Art.  They are all different in styles for different areas of the Sepik River villages, each is unique & beautiful but together they are something special, together they become a ” family of small sculptures “. Most collectors know well about the magic of grouping small objects together and how wonderful they can look on a shelf or table. This collection has been on my bedroom bookshelf for many years, I always get great enjoyment from looking at them and showing them to a friend or another collector.

In the Sepik River area peoples ceremonial & spiritual life revolves around masks, usually, dance masks worn by a select person but also large masks for the gables or windows of the monumental ceremonial Haus Tambaran or Men’s Ceremonial House where all the important rituals & initiations take place and where scared objects like masks are stored and venerated.  Small masks like these are similar in the style or the larger dance masks and are used by men as a personal protection and magical purposes,  they are often kept in small woven bags and carried in a larger bush fibre string bag when out walking or hunting.  Every owner of a small mask would tell you a different story of their use & importance & how they are connected to the large dance masks kept in the village.  Small masks can also be tied onto other types of ceremonial objects.

When I was visiting New Guinea & West Papua 38 years ago many times I saw old men pull out small woven bags of magic implements & use them with Betel Nut to blow away storms or stay safe in long canoe trips.  I asked them about this & never got much of a reply except ” Old Man Magic “.

These masks collected over 38 years came from several collections & field collecting

The Todd Barlin Collection of  Sepik River Papua New Guinea Art

 

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Four Carved Burlwood Figures of Lohan China 19th Century

This four beautiful burlwood carved figures of the Buddhist Saint Lohan also known as Arhats. Lohans are followers of the Buddha who reached enlightenment but have not yet attained the higher state of nirvana. Lohan is the Chinese name, Arhat is the Sanskrit and Rakan the Japanese all for the same persons.  These were likely carved in the early to mid 19th century and the use of root wood or burlwood was very poupular in China during this time.

The Eighteen Arhats or Lohan are depicted in Mahayana Buddhism as the original followers of Gautama Buddha (arhat) who have followed the Noble Eightfold Path and attained the four stages of enlightenment. They have reached the state of Nirvana and are free of worldly cravings. They are charged to protect the Buddhist faith and to wait on earth for the coming of Maitreya, an enlightened Buddha prophesied to arrive on earth many millennia after Gautama Buddha’s death In China, the eighteen arhats are also a popular subject in Buddhist art,

Originally, the arhats were composed of only 10 disciples of Gautama Buddha, although the earliest Indian sutras indicate that only 4 of them, Pindola, Kundadhana, Panthaka and Nakula, were instructed to await the coming of Maitreya.

Later this number increased to sixteen to include patriarchs and other spiritual adepts. Teachings about the Arhats eventually made their way to China where they were called Lohan (羅漢, shortened from a-luo-han a Chinese transcription for Arhat),

A cult built around the Lohan’s as guardians of Buddhist faith gained momentum amongst Chinese Buddhists at the end of the ninth century for they had just been through a period great persecution under the reign of Emperor Tang Wuzong

The Qianlong Emperor was a great admirer of the Lohan’s and many images such as these were made for burlwood.

Provenance:  Old Collection UK. The Todd Barlin Collection of Asian Buddhist Art

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A Superb Maori Ceremonial Adze Toki Poutangata

This finely carved Maori Presentation Adze or toki poutangata  is attributed to the Maori Master Carver John Collins made about 30 years ago.  The photos of this beautiful artwork don’t do the carving justice. The carved figures on the top of the adze & the head on the butt of the adze are so well carved they have life & energy that you can feel and it is as fine as any 19th Century Maori Carving in my opinion. The Green Stone Adze Blade is equally fine, made from a very beautiful marbled green colour and the artist gave this stone a very refined shape.

According to the Te Papa Museum in Wellington New Zealand in reference to old toki poutangata or ceremonial adze, they are described as follows:

” A toki poutangata is a ceremonial adze worked from pounamu or greenstone that is usually lashed to a finely carved handle. Almost invariably carried by a person of mana, someone of high rank and with great leadership qualities, they were often adorned with the feathers of significant birds. Such birds included the kaka, kahu, and the kererū. Strips of dog hair were also added. Perhaps the nearest equivalent in European culture is the sceptre, used by kings as a symbol of rank and power and bearing the spiritual symbolism of the Christian cross.

Toki poutangata were used on ceremonial occasions, such as the felling of a great tree for a significant waka (canoe) or for the ridgepole of a whare nui or meeting house. The first chips cut from the tree were taken by the tohunga to a special place where karakia of thanksgiving were recited to the god of the forest, Tanemahuta in acknowledgement of the sacrifice of his offspring. The chips might also be returned ceremonially to the forest to nurture new growth.

It is believed that the toki poutangata was originally used for the ceremonial execution of captives. Upon the death of its owner, the special handle was buried with them while the pounamu blade remained with the tribe. Once it had been decided who would succeed the chief, another handle was fashioned and lashed to the adze.

H D Skinner recorded the work of Māori ethnologist Te Rangi Hiroa on the function of the toki poutangata. Te Rangi Hiroa maintained that this implement was never intended for the adzing of wood by craftsmen. “It formed an exclusive article in the property of a chiefly family, to be borne on ceremonial occasions, to accompany the gestures of the family orator, and to lie in state on the breast of the chiefly dead.” Buck told me that he knew of only one occasion on which a toki poutangata had been used actively, namely by Te Wherowhero when designating Te Atiawa captives to the oven after the fall of Pukerangiora pa. [an attack by Waikato on a Taranaki pa].

‘He suggested that the name of the artefact might be due to this specific function. He later withdrew this and suggested that the term toki poutangata meant “the adze that establishes man in authority”(1).

With this in mind, the symbols of rank between Māori and European culture that held sway at the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi – the toki poutangata and the sceptre – are indeed strongly similar. Another mark of authority for the British were the seals of the realm. ”

Reference

(1) Skinner, H D. (1974). Comparatively speaking: Studies in Pacific Material ”

Provenance: The Todd Barlin Collection of Oceanic Art

 

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Four Finely Carved Betel Nut Knife Handles Indonesia

This set of very beautifully carved handles from Betel Nut Knife Crusher are from the Sasak People on Lombok Island of Indonesia. Caved from Water Buffalo Horn in the form of ancient stories going back to the Hindu & Buddhist periods of Indonesia. The first carving is of one man riding another like a horse, perhaps a slave or captive of war being humiliated.  ( if you know more about this subject please I would very much like to hear from you ) Two others are carved in the form of two couples in an erotic embrace. The last one is of a single man with a large phallus.  These were collected in Indonesia in the late 1960s, it is possible that they are all by one very skilled artist, they have a feeling that they relate to each other.  They are likely  60 years old conservatively but possibly much older.

Betel Nut Chewing is endemic throughout SE Asia & the Pacific Islands. The seed of the Areca Palm is a mild stimulate much like a strong cup of tea or coffee, locals chew it from a young age and all through their lives. Chewed together with Piper betle leaves and slaked lime ( burnt and crushed seashells) it is widely used but causes mouth cancer & people lose their teeth and that is why the Betel Knives are used to crush the betel nut into a paste for consumption.

Betel chewing has been used for thousands of years and the many cultures that chew betel make beautiful small scale artworks used in the preparation & consumption of the betel nut.

 

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A fine Japanese Carving of the Buddhist Guardian Deity Zochoten

This finely carved figure of the Japanese Guardian Figure of Zochten, he is Guardian Figure worshipped as a Protector Deity. Known as Virudhaka in Tibetan Buddhism described in the superb resource website ” The Himalayan Art Resources ” as ” the leader of Kumbhanda and Guardian of the Southern Direction. He is worshipped as a protector deity and he lives on the southern side of Mount Meru in the Heaven of the Four Great Kings.  He has sworn an oath to the Shakyamuni Buddha. The stories & iconography of the Four Guardian Kings arose in the early Buddhist Sutras. ”

Here the figure of the Japanese Guardian Figure of Zochten is seen trampling on a Amanojaku or Heavenly Evil Spirit like an Oni that appears in Japanese folklore. This creature has entered Buddhist thoughts and is considered an opponent of Buddhist teachings and he is being trampled on and subdued by the Guardian Zochten and the righteousness of the Buddhas teachings thus showing good prevailing over evil.

This artwork was made by a very skilled and confident artist likely in the late 19th Century, though it could be earlier. There are much earlier Zochten Figures in museum Japan and elsewhere where they have beautiful classical Chinese & Japanese attributes where this example is more a folk art carving possibly made for a local shrine in the countryside.

I think highly of this figure as an artwork, carved from heavy wood in three pieces; The Guardian Figure and the Oni he is trampling on, the third piece is the spear itself. Both figures are painted in red and black and in good light, you can see the Guardian leggings are striped.  The Oni is mostly red except for his black hair.

Provenance:  Private Collection Japan and The Todd Barlin Collection of Buddhist Art

 

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Rare Ceremonial Dance Mask from the Nggala People, Swagap Village Upper Sepik River Papua New Guinea

The beautiful and rare ceremonial Dance Mask is from the Nggala People of Swagap Village on the Upper Sepik River area in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. The mask is large at 137cm high, carved from a single piece of wood except for the attached bird effigy at the top.  This type of mask is rare & not many were ever collected.  Swagap village used to be called Nggala and that is how it is referred to by the late Douglas Newtown the former curator of Oceanic Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York & formerly called The Museum of Primitive Art later incorporated into the Rockefeller Wing at The Metropolitan Museum did his fieldwork amongst the Nggala people in 1964, 1965, 1967.

According to the Douglas Newton ”  At that time he estimated that there were only 140 people living at Nggala (Swagap). Newton later published a book on his research “Crocodile & Cassowary 1971” by The Museum of Primitive Art.  The section about the Nggala in his book shows a similar mask at this example on page 49 , the mask is made from bark expect for the wood bird attached to the top.

These distinctive masks were made both in wood & bark were used in the Mbangk Ceremony. The masks represented powerful local water spirits of their area, the masks were made in pairs fastened back to back on the dancer who was in the middle of theses masks. The dancer was painted black from head to foot and had a long grass skirt from his shoulders to the ground and he looked out through the holes in the mask’s eyes.

The Nggala had few contacts with Europeans before 1953 when the Australian Colonial officers started to visit regularly because of earlier headhunting raids that were to be extinguished by the Colonial administration.

Provenance: This fine mask was collected circa 1969-70.  I have had it in my personal collection for 35 years and have enjoyed it immensely over the years.

It was exhibited & published in the exhibition Oceanic Arts Pacifica at The Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in Sydney in 2014. The exhibition was mainly for the Pacific Islander community that live in Western Sydney & during the opening weekend, several thousand pacific islands people came to dance & sing & enjoy the art exhibitions.  Published in the exhibition catalogue on page 55

You can see some photos of the mask in the exhibition space.

 

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A Fine Early Dayak Shield Borneo Island Indonesia

This fine old used shield is from the Dayak People of Borneo Island Kalimantan Indonesia. Dating from early 20th Century.

Provenance: Collected before WW2

The Todd Barlin Colletion

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A Fine Paiwan Tribe Ancestor Figure South Taiwan Early 20th Century

This finely carved Ancestor Figure is from the Paiwan People or other closely related indigenous Formosan tribe from the South Taiwan / Formosa Island.  Dating from the early 20th Century and showing deep old patina and wear from handling.   Carved from a single piece of hardwood and standing on a small square base that has a chip on one corner clearly seen in the photos.

The ancestor figure is of a Paiwan Man who has been successful hunting with wild boar carried by tying the boar’s feet together and the animal becomes a backpack. The man is wearing a traditional Paiwan woven textile kilt and the one hand likely once heald a weapon like a spear or a sword.  The artist was highly skilled, the proportions of the figure & the boar he is carrying are accurate but it is the sensitive face that shows the artist was able to capture real emotion of their highly venerated ancestor.

I have included a couple of photos of similar hunting ancestor figures in public museums collections for reference.

Wild boar is an important part of the Paiwan traditional diet but it is also a recurring motif used on Paiwan art objects such as the superb Chief’s House Lintel also on my website.

The Paiwan are one of several indigenous peoples living the mountainous interior of Taiwan. Paiwan society is hierarchical, divided into high nobles, minor nobility, and commoners. In former times, only the high nobility was entitled to create or commission certain forms of human images, which portrayed important ancestors (tsmas). The ancestors, whose supernatural influence was controlled by the nobility, had the power to either help or harm the community, depending on whether their spirits received proper respect through ritual observances and offerings. The houses of Paiwan nobles were both the physical and artistic centres of ancestral power and imagery. The remains of noble ancestors were buried within the houses of their descendants, and their images adorned the doorways, house posts, and other architectural elements. This impressive Lintel likely once adorned a  house of a Paiwan noble family.

The designs of a traditional Paiwan Chiefs house are similar to those used on this fine tray & all other manner of daily use objects that honoured their ancestors.

I have been collecting Oceanic Art for 40 years and have always been fascinated with Paiwan & other Taiwan Indigenous tribes art as they are the know ancestors of the ancient Polynesians. The Taiwan Indigenous tribes art styles have connections & influences on not only Polynesian Art but also on Southeast Asian Art and through Indonesia & island of New Guinea.

Provenance:  This fine tray came from the collection of the family of Lin Tien Wang who was working with Paiwan Villages in the early 1930s .

The Todd Barlin Collection of  New Guinea Art & Oceanic and Asian Art

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A Fine Paiwan Tribe Carved Medicine Box South Taiwan Late 19th Century

This finely carved chief’s box for medicine is from the Paiwan People of South Taiwan / Formosa Island.  Dating from the late 19th to very early 20th Century and showing deep old patina and wear.

The lidded Box was likely used to store traditional medicine in.  Carved from a single piece of wood in a rectangular form with the tightly fitting lid which is so finely done no insects or dust could get inside. The Box is beautifully carved with the same repeating motif of honoured ancestors linked together upside down and between each of these double figures they are holding a severed head is which is relating to the Paiwan being once fierce headhunters. This amazing design is repeated on all four sides of the box.  There is one more important design element which I didn’t see at first, between the sets of figures you can see clearly on the top is a Hundred-Pacer Snake.  The Hundred-Pacer Snakes (Agkistrodon acutus) which is an important clan motif in which one of the major characters in Paiwan mythology, and it is generally considered to be the pro-creator of the nobles.  The high relief designs on the box are painted with a red lacquer giving the box a shimmering look of the red ancestors dancing with heads in their hands.

The Paiwan are one of several indigenous peoples living the mountainous interior of Taiwan. Paiwan society is hierarchical, divided into high nobles, minor nobility, and commoners. In former times, only the high nobility was entitled to create or commission certain forms of human images, which portrayed important ancestors (tsmas). The ancestors, whose supernatural influence was controlled by the nobility, had the power to either help or harm the community, depending on whether their spirits received proper respect through ritual observances and offerings. The houses of Paiwan nobles were both the physical and artistic centres of ancestral power and imagery. The remains of noble ancestors were buried within the houses of their descendants, and their images adorned the doorways, house posts, and other architectural elements. This impressive Lintel likely once adorned a  house of a Paiwan noble family.

The designs of a traditional Paiwan Chiefs house are similar to those used on this fine tray & all other manner of daily use objects that honoured their ancestors.

I have been collecting Oceanic Art for 40 years and have always been fascinated with Paiwan & other Taiwan Indigenous tribes art as they are the know ancestors of the ancient Polynesians. The Taiwan Indigenous tribes art styles have connections & influences on not only Polynesian Art but also on Southeast Asian Art and through Indonesia & island of New Guinea.

Provenance:  This fine tray came from the collection of the family of Lin Tien Wang who was working with Paiwan Villages in the early 1930s .

The Todd Barlin Collection of  New Guinea Art & Oceanic and Asian Art

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If you have a similar “object” for sale please contact me for the best price and honest advice by a Government approved valuer 

To see many more rare items and the finest masterpieces, please make an appointment with us to visit the gallery.

For all inquiries, please contact us.

 

 

A fine Papua New Guinea Highlands Ancestor Figure

This rare and charming female Ancestor Figure is from the Papua New Guinea Highlands, most likely from the Eastern Highlands Province or the Western Highlands Provenance.

Carved from a piece of hardwood with the articulated arms carved from separate pieces of wood, the breasts are carved in high relief & under the skirt is female genitals.   The figure is decorated with normal daily wear of women, she is wearing a fibre skirt with a Croix seed belt (jobs tears), she is wearing armbands & leg bands and her hair is covered with real hair which is then covered with a bilum type woven bag.  All women in the highlands of New Guinea wear these bilum bags which the strap goes over their head to balance a load in the bag on their back. The bag is often filled with a baby being brought along to work in their gardens.  She is wearing cowrie shell necklaces & red paint on her face for a ceremonial dance.

I found this figure in a collection of African Art which was said to be African but having seen these types of ancestor figures many times in the collections of the Art Gallery of New South Wales from the Stan Moriarty Collection so I knew what it was and ask to acquire it.  The owner had it since the 1970s so it would date from the late 1960s to the early 1970s.   The Art Gallery of New South Wales had a superb exhibition in 2014 ” Plumes & Pearlshells; Art of the New Guinea Highlands ” that showcased the Moriarty Collection of Highlands Art, this fine exhibition by the AGNSW curator Natalie Wilson was the best exhibition on New Guinea Art in Australia since ” Pieces from Paradise at the Australian Museum in 1988.  Natalie Wilson is a bright light for New Guinea art in Australian Public Institutions.

Figurative Art in the Papua New Guinea Highlands is quite rare, they were not prolific carvers ceremonial art as with the Sepik River People or the people in the Papuan Gulf area on the South Coast of New Guinea.

In the 1980’s I went to Papua New Guinea 24 times & West Papua Indonesia 43 times. When travelling in the Western Highlands of PNG and the Southern Highlands of PNG and the Eastern Highlands of PNG in 1986 – 1987  I spent several months in each of the places travelling to remote villages and collecting traditional art & artefacts, I never saw any Figures for sale or in use except for the fibre ” Payback Dolls ” made in the Mendi Valley area. They were not in the use or made at that time.  Interesting many of the people were still wearing traditional clothes, men with a ” lap lap ”  or woven groin covering tucked into a bark belt & the back end were covered by leaves.  Women wore fibre skirts of different types for a married or unmarried woman.  Traditional clothing for day to day use virtually disappeared from use by the end of the 1980s except for in remote areas.  I was so privileged to be able to travel and see these amazing cultures who were so kind and welcoming to me everywhere I went.

On a custom stands that allow the ancestor figure to freely stand on her own.

Provenance: The Todd Barlin Collection of Papua New Guinea Highlands Art

 

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To see many more rare items and the finest masterpieces, please make an appointment with us to visit the gallery.

For all inquiries, please contact us.