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A Collection of Four Abelam Coconut Spining Tops, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea, Early 20th Century


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Collection No. Coll - Coconut Spining Tops
Size Diameter: 10-12 cm
A Collection of Four Abelam Coconut Spining Tops, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea, Early 20th Century

Spinning tops seem to be a type of object independently created by many world cultures used a kids toys.

With the Abelam people they are used both as kids toys but also as a ceremonial game that initiated men play with the winner thought to be the clan that will have the biggest ceremonial yams during that years harvest. The concave surface is decorated with various stylized and other geometric designs.

One of the major focuses of ceremonial life among the Abelam people of northeast New Guinea is the competitive growth and exchange of long yams. The Abelam cultivate two distinct categories of yams—a small variety used as ordinary food and long yams, massive tubers that can be as much as twelve feet long. A man’s social status is determined largely by his success in growing long yams. Each man has a permanent exchange partner to whom he ceremonially presents his largest yams following the annual harvest, later receiving those of his rival in return. Men who are consistently able to give their partners longer yams than they receive gain great prestige. Lavishly adorned for the presentation ceremony, the finest long yams are essentially transformed into human images, decorated in the manner of men in full ceremonial regalia. The “heads” of the enormous tubers are adorned with specially made yam masks such as this one, which are made exclusively for yams and are never worn by humans.

Similar tops used in a harvest ceremony are illustrated in fig. 48 in Margaret Mead’s book on the Abelam’s neighbours, the Mountain Arapesh.

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