Spirit Figure, Abelam People, East Sepik
A finely Carved & painted ceremonial figure, Circa 1940-1950
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.
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