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Map, Mendi, Southern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea

Sombti (wooden crescent-shaped decoration)
Other titles:
Somp, worn by leader of a clan
Kina wallet
Place of origin
MapMendiSouthern Highlands ProvincePapua New Guinea
Cultural origin
Mendi people
collected 1969
Media category
Ceremonial object
Materials used
carved wood, red ochre pigment, white pigment, plant seeds, cane, bark, 2-ply plant fibre string

18.5 x 14.6 x 1.2 cm:

a - Sombti; 18.5 x 14.6 x 1.2 cm; approximate dimensions of leaf bundle

b - leaf bundle; 25 x 16 cm

Purchased 1977
Accession number
© Mendi people, under the endorsement of PIMA's 'Code of Ethics'
Not on display
Further information

The 'sombti' is a wooden, crescent-shaped object which accompanies the highly valued 'somb'. In former times the 'somb' was kept as an item of prestige - a symbol of clan unity and social solidarity amongst the Mendi of the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The 'sombti' is not as valuable as the 'somb' itself and is made only to decorate the 'somb'.

Many people are involved in making the 'sombti'. One brings the wood which is shaped into a crescent. Another contributes red paint to decorate the 'sombti', while others bring 'ti kulimb', or tree moss, and other materials to decorate the item.

Those involved in making the 'sombti' and decorating the 'somb' are each paid when the 'somb' is sold, even though they may not have contributed to the purchase of the 'somb'.

[see Theodore Mawe, 'Mendi culture and tradition: a recent survey', PNG National Museum, Record No. 10, 1985, pg. 32-41]

Bibliography (2)

Theodore Mawe, Mendi culture and tradition: a recent survey, Port Moresby, 1985, 32-41. General description of the 'somb' and 'sombti' as used in traditional Mendi rituals. Plate no. 1 shows a 'momak somb' and 'sombti' in the collection of the National Museum of PNG: Catalogue numbers 83.45.46 and 83.45.47

Tony Tuckson, Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 28 (illus.), 50. H19