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Pacific art

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Kandara (drum)

mid 20th century
collected circa 1985


William Kaise

Western New Guinea


The Marind-Anim people live in the low-lying south-eastern coast of West Papua, which includes the Bian and Kumbe river valleys and the lower Maro river. Mythological ancestors acted as culture heroes who introduced plants, animals and cultural items, such as drums. 'Dema' often had the form of plants or animals, for which totems often appeared on objects. The Dutch anthropologist Jan Van Baal related that canoes and drums were objects of magical incantations in which their names played a part. A 'wih', or spirit, can be contained within a drum and when a drum is broken, it is said that the 'wih' has gone, just as it is when a man or woman dies.

Large 'kandara' (drums) were reserved by the Marind-Anim men for important ceremonies, such as initiation rituals, where the initiates enter the initiation grounds drumming. At every major feast, the 'samb-zi' (festive song) is sung and danced and 'kandara' are played. Drummers customarily would gather round a fire as the tympanum is tuned through the application of lumps of wax on the membrane, with the warmth of the flames keeping the wax malleable. Relief carving on these drums took various forms, including the organic forms of wasp hives or the open wings of a flying fox.

For further information see: Anthony J P Meyer, 'Ozeanische Kunst', Konemann, 2000; John Friede et al, 'New Guinea art: masterpieces of the Jolika Collection from Marcia And John Friede', 5 Continents Editions, 2005; and 'Art papou: Austronesiens et Papous de Nouvelle-Guinee', Reunion des musees nationaux, Paris, 2000


Cultural origin

Marind-anim people


mid 20th century
collected circa 1985

Materials used

wood, earth pigments, plant fibre, animal skin


121.5 cm height

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of Todd Barlin 2020. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

William Kaise

Works in the collection