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Totemic Bird, Kupkein Village Upper Sepik River Papua New Guinea


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Collection No. T-2812
Size (52x34cm)
Totemic Bird, Kupkein Village Upper Sepik River Papua New Guinea
Totemic Bird, Kupkein Village Upper Sepik River Papua New Guinea
Totemic Bird, Kupkein Village Upper Sepik River Papua New Guinea

Totemic Bird Figure from Kupkein Village, Upper Sepik River Area, East Sepik Province Papua New Guinea. This elegant bird form totem is carved outstretched wings as if it is in flight.  The entire bird has deeply incised designs that are unique to two villages on the Upper Sepik River Kukein & Swagap. The designs are highlighted with white, yellow and black ochre painting.  There is no apparent place for the bird to stand on its own so I am guessing that it was tied by a rope or string to the ceiling in the Men’s Cult House.  I have not seen any similar bird figures but there are artworks from these villages in the book ” Crocodile and Cassowary: Religious Art of The Upper Sepik River New Guinea by Douglas Newton at The Museum of Primitive Art in NY 1971, that you can see artworks with similar designs on them on pages 46-49.

This Bird Totem likely dates from the early 20th Century.  It is now on a fine custom made stand that allows the bird to fly in space.

Birds in New Guinea art can be important clan totems and also anthropomorphic spirit beings that are half man ; primordial bird-men and bird-women, who originally created the sacred musical instruments, consisting of bamboo flutes and slit gongs that were kept within the ceremonial houses and played a central role in ritual life of their communities.

I visited Kupkein & Swagap Villages in 1986 at that time I saw no Cult House or ceremonial objects being made or stored. perhaps I didn’t stay long enough to be trusted to see important ceremonial objects.

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