Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information, including hours




Pacific art

View More:


Cooking pot

early 20th century-mid 20th century


Usur people

Papua New Guinea


This elongated cooking pot is known by various names depending on the areas into which they were traded. The Garia and Kopoka people of the Ramu Valley call pots 'suma' and 'sema', respectively. According to the anthropologist Ian Hughes: 'In the lower Tauya Valley they are called 'sema', in the middle Tauya 'suma' and in the upper Tauya 'somo'. The Ramu people north of the Gende call them 'singgi' and the Gende call them 'garia', two intriguing name changes, since the Ramu people are the intermediaries. To the Chimbu they are 'gala'.

Pots such as this were brought into the highlands through marriage exchanges or traded for wooden bowls, dry meat and bows, as the highlanders are not generally known for making pots. Clay was usually collected by women in quarries at the end of the wet season and beginning of the dry season. A very large pot such as this, needed up to ten kilos of clay. The body of the pot is formed by the coil method, starting with the bottom coil at the pointed base. Smoothing the outside with a piece of bamboo, the decoration across the neck is made with a bamboo stick.

Made by men, the pots then became the possessions of women who used them on a daily basis.

According to Margaret Tuckson and Patricia May:
'When the pot is ready for drying it is bound by a woven support, taken to the men's house (a form of ritual) and suspended from the beams to dry for about one month. Hardwood from the bush is used as a fuel for firing the pots; dried pandanus leaves may also be used'.

By the early 1980s, the production of these pots was in decline.

For further examples see Margaret Tuckson and Patricia May, 'The traditional pottery of Papua New Guinea', Bay Books, Sydney, 1982, and Ian Hughes, 'Recent Neolithic trade in New Guine'’, PhD thesis, ANU, 1971


Place where the work was made

Madang Province Papua New Guinea

Cultural origin

Usur people (Peka)


early 20th century-mid 20th century

Media category


Materials used



53.0 cm height; 14.0 cm diam at rim opening; 22.0 cm diam at widest point

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

Usur people

Works in the collection



Where the work was made
Madang Province