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A Superb Old New Guinea Ancestor Figure Massim Milne Bay Province Papua New Guinea

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Size Height 44cm

A Superb Old New Guinea Ancestor Figure Massim Milne Bay Province Papua New Guinea 19th Century 

Massim Carved Wood Ancestor Figure, Milne Bay Province in Eastern Papua New Guinea. Collected in New Guinea by Captain William Campbell Thomson circa 1890’s.

This rare and early ancestor figure is thought to be an image of a handicapped female ancestor , a person that was known to or a relative of the master carver. Often in New Guinea people with deformities were thought to have supernatural powers like a sorcerer or witch.  Finely carved in a naturalistic style the woman with her left arm shorter and an obvious deformity. Her strong facial expression and she has some incised designs on the forehead and down the centre of her body. She looks like she is wearing a hat with small top but it is probably a hair style or headdress.  She is carved from a single piece of hardwood and the incised designs and facial features are highlighted with white lime.

The Massim are well known for other types of  beautiful artworks like their intricately carved canoe ornaments and fantastically imaginative Lime Spatulas.  The Massim are also known for their great maritime skills and a complex trading system called the Kula Ring.  Kula is also the name for certain ornaments & wealth objects like stone axe blades and shell money. These valuables traded purely for purposes of enhancing one’s social status and  prestige. Carefully prescribed customs and traditions surround the ceremonies that accompany the exchanges which establish strong, ideally lifelong relationships between the exchange parties (karayta’u, “partners”). The act of giving is a display of the greatness of the giver, accompanied by shows of exaggerated modesty in which the value of what is given is actively played down. Such a partnership involves strong mutual obligations such as hospitality, protection and assistance.  Kula valuables never remain for long in the hands of the recipients; rather, they must be passed on to other partners within a certain amount of time, thus constantly circling around the ring. However, even temporary possession brings prestige and status. Important chiefs can have hundreds of partners while less significant participants may only have fewer than a dozen.

One must conclude that this is one of the rarest of Massim Figures that were made solely for traditional ancestor worship and spirituality.


Captain William Campbell Thomson Australia ( 1851 – 1934 )  He collected this figure in New Guinea Circa 1890s 

The Dr Harry Beran Collection Cambridge UK 

The John Freide Collection New York. Most of this fine collection also known as The Jolika Collection now in the De Young Museum of Fine Art in San Francisco 

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

William Campbell Thomson was born in 1855 in Glasgow, Scotland. Captain William Campbell Thomson’s obituary notes that he commanded A.U.S.N. steamers from 1875 to 1919 most notably, the Arawatta.

During his 44 years of service, he travelled the eastern Australian coast, New Guinea, New Caledonia, Fiji and other parts of the South Pacific. Thomson was a well respected seaman who was the author of at least three publications including “Gulf of Carpentaria”, “History of the N.E. Coast of Australia” and “The Early History of Australia”.

Thomson gathered a very fine collection of items, including items from inhabitants of northern Queensland, PNG and Fiji. Part of the collection, left to one of his daughters, Eulie Round (born Esther Eulalie Thomson), rested in a house in Caloundra, Queensland, from 1935 until it was moved to Brisbane many decades later. The rest of his collection was sold at Pickles Auctions in Sydney Australia on September 5th & 6th in 1986.


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