(Papua New Guinea)
This figure was bought from a source in Sydney. It is here attributed to either a region of the lower Yuat River, or to the west. The difference between this figure and those of the lower river and coastal area is most marked, especially in the features of the head. The emphasis on the eyes which are round and carved in relief, is not so strong, the nose is splayed out at the nostrils and the lips of the mouth are indicated. The head is found on other figures from the Yuat River (see also Douglas Newton, 'New Guinea art in the collection of the Museum of Primitive Art', Museum of Primitive Art Handbook, No. 2, 1967: no. 39, a clan ancestor figure from Moim - made 1914 or before).
Of particular interest is the pose with arms bent holding an object. This combination appears on a number of similar figures, also on some long-nosed figures of an open work type sometimes described as dance staffs. The figure has carved holes at the back so it could be suspended, and it relates more closely in some aspects to similar figures with a protruding abdomen, some of which are in the Australian Museum, Sydney (David Moore, 'Melanesian art in the Australian Museum', 1968, E.18181 illustrated on cover), and one in the Papua New Guinea Public Museum and Art Gallery, Port Moresby. The latter figure is described (Karl Laumann, 'Geisterfiguren am mittleren Yuat River in Neuguinea', Anthropos, 49, 1954, pg. 37) with the related myth, Mundabala and his Family. A man from the Maramba, south of Kanduonum who managed to return to the village through various circumstances after being captured by bush spirits, had a large figure made in the form of these spirits. At the same time a small figure was carved, the child of the spirit (the Port Moresgy figure). Later a feud developed over the killing of a woman, Pandi, a Maramban, leading to one section moving from Maramba to Andoar on the banks of the lower Yuat. A third effigy was made to represent the woman, without a head, as when it was made her own skull was placed on top of it. The figure Mundabala, considered a war and hunting 'god', protected the Maramba people against enemies and saw there was sufficient supply of wildlife for hunting. The two secondary figures, wife and child, had no special significance except that they were associated with the main spirit figure. Laumann's informant said the child (Andi) was holding a bird to eat. The story confirms the type of movement that took place on the Sepik.
revised entry from AJ Tuckson, 'Some Sepik River art from the collection', AGNSW Quarterly, vol 13, no 3, 1972, pg. 671.
David R Moore, Melanesian art in the Australian Museum 1968, Sydney, 1968. Front cover shows figure from Australian Museum collection [E.18181] which closely resembles the AGNSW figure, in size and form, purchased by E. Schmidt in 1909.
JA Tuckson, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly Apr 1972, 'Some Sepik River art from the collection', pg. 666-679, Sydney, Apr 1972, 671, 675 (illus.). plate no. 8
Tony Tuckson, Aboriginal and Melanesian art 1973, Domain, 1973, 43, 44. cat.no. 30; titled 'Figure, femaile (child?), holding an object to chin'; Yuat River area; wood; 44 h; P4.1971
Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 Oct 1974 -