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A Fine Old New Guinea Ancestral Figure Abelam People Prince Alexander Mountains East Sepik Papua New Guinea


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Size 78x31cm
Oceanic Arts Australia buys and sells tribal New Guinea art

A Fine Old New Guinea Ancestral Spirit Figure Abelam People Prince Alexander Mountains area in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea

This finely carved & painted Ancestral Spirit Figure is known as nggwalndu in the Abelam language. The large expressive face is surmounted by two hornbill birds, birds in New Guinea art can be important clan totems and also anthropomorphic spirit beings that are a half man; primordial bird-men and bird-women who in their creation mythology originally created sacred musical instruments, consisting of bamboo flutes and slit gongs that were kept within the ceremonial houses and played a central role in the ritual life of their communities.

The Abelam people of the Prince Alexander Mountains north of the Sepik River practice perhaps the longest and most spectacular initiation cycle of any New Guinea people. Beginning in childhood, each Abelam male must pass through eight separate initiation rites over the course of twenty to thirty years, before he is a fully initiated man. Each successive ritual requires both a physical ordeal and the viewing of increasingly elaborate displays of sacred objects in specially constructed chambers within the men’s ceremonial house. This process continues until the final rites, in which the initiate is shown the largest and most sacred of all displays—the brilliantly painted figures and other images portraying the powerful clan spirits called nggwalndu. The largest nggwalndu images are used during this final ritual. Although nggwalndu figures are impressive works of sculpture, to the Abelam, their power lies in the bright polychrome paints applied to their surfaces. For the Abelam, paint is a magical substance that endows the figures with supernatural power and beauty. In creating their displays, artists strive to achieve a visual magnificence that will overwhelm the viewer.

Provenance: The Todd Barlin Collection of Oceanic Art

Exhibited & Published: Oceanic Arts Pacifica: Artworks from the Todd Barlin Collection at The Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre 2014 Sydney Australia Page 85

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