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Omu Ceremonial Figure, Asmat People, West Papua Irian Jaya Indonesia


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Collection No. TB-3412
Size Height 196 cm
Omu Ceremonial Figure, Asmat People, West Papua Irian Jaya Indonesia
Omu Ceremonial Figure, Asmat People, West Papua Irian Jaya Indonesia
Omu Ceremonial Figure, Asmat People, West Papua Irian Jaya Indonesia
Omu Ceremonial Figure, Asmat People, West Papua Irian Jaya Indonesia
Omu Ceremonial Figure, Asmat People, West Papua Irian Jaya Indonesia
Omu Ceremonial Figure, Asmat People, West Papua Irian Jaya Indonesia

This Omu Ceremonial Figure I collected in in 1986 in the remote Northwest Asmat Area on the South Coast of West Papua Irian Jaya Indonesia.

The Omu Ceremony only occurs in very infrequently in a few small villages in the remote NW Asmat Area, I was in this Northwest Asmat Area  a lot over the years 1985 – 1989, during that time I was very lucky to see the Omu Ceremonies in several small villages, I was there during the ceremony & was staying in each village 3-4 weeks at a time.

According to Asmat Omu myth, in the beginning there were two major clans. The spirit named (secret) whispered to the carvers to make Omu to bring fertility to the People and keep them from illness.

The bottom part of the tree was the father, and the top the son. Each clan in the village made one Omu that was exchanged with the other clan to promote harmony. This tradition carries on today, with the bottom part now the older brother, and the top the younger brother.

When the elders decide it is time to make Omu, there are several steps in the feast cycle. The village men begin by making a special feast house for the onus, called the je ti.

Elders and wow-ipits (master carver) go the jungle to find one very tall tree, or two suitable shorter trees, as Omu are always made in pairs. The other men prepare logs, bark and sago leaves for constructing the house. When the Omu are almost finished, colour is applied and their heads are pushed through a curtain for the villagers to look at from a distance. This is repeated several times over the course of the days leading up to the finished product.

Around this time, some men go out hunting wild boar for the feast, while others go back to the jungle to find a mangrove tree with many buttress roots. They cut it down, strip the bark, then shorten the roots and fashion them into hook shapes. The tree is brought to the feast house and is placed upright near the centre of the house at the upstream end. It will serve as a post to help hold up the house, as well as a support for the Omu during the final portion of the feast.

When they are completed, men first, then women, are encouraged to come into the feast house and touch the Omu to ensure fertility. They are accompanied by singing and dancing. Then the onus is tied to long poles. This portion of the ceremony takes most of one day and all night.  The spirits have entered the Omu and will remain with the village to bless it. They are now fed sago and water, and tied to the rafters of the house.  Later two groups of young men sneak in the back door of the feast house, carrying bundles of sago leaves representing headhunting victims. These are placed on either side of the main fireplace. The bundles are poked with spears in a mock attack, and then the leaves are removed from the spines, which are tied back into bundles.

In the photos above you can see photos of some of the people inside the ceremonial house ready for the ceremonial cycles to happem.

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