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A Fine Old New Guinea Totemic Bird Figure Kupkein Village Upper Sepik River Papua New Guinea


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Collection No. TB-3481
Size (52x34cm)
Oceanic Arts Australia buys and sells tribal New Guinea art

A Fine Old New Guinea Totemic Bird Figure from Kupkein Village Upper Sepik River Papua New Guinea. Dates from the early to mid-20th Century 

This elegant totemic bird sculpture is from the Nggala people in Kupkein Village on the Upper Sepik River Area in the East Sepik Province Papua New Guinea,

Beautifully carved this long-necked bird with outstretched wings as if it is in flight, the entire bird has deeply incised designs that are unique to the Nggala people in two villages only on the Upper Sepik River; Kupkein & 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 as many ceremonial objects are.

I have not previously seen any bird figures specifically like this 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 and you can see artwork s with similar designs on them on pages 46-49.

Swagap & two other small villages nearby have a common language & would share the same ceremonies.  These ceremonies are very important to the well-being of the entire community, they ensure safety from malevolent spirits and people, ensure that the crops will grow & that people’s behavior will be guided by their ancestors.

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 central role in the 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 and when asked about ceremonial objects they said ” that was our grandparents ”

It is now on a fine custom-made stand that allows the bird to fly in space.

Provenance:  Kirby Kallas Lewis Collection Seatle 

The Todd Barlin Collection of New Guinea Oceanic Art

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