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Pacific art

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Aumer or Au'maka (ceremonial serving bowl)

mid 20th century


Kwoma people

Papua New Guinea


Inland from the village of Ambunti on the Sepik River, in the foothills of the Ambunti Mountains, there are three pottery producing cultural groups: the Nukuma, the Mayo and the Kwoma. This bowl is most likely from one of the Kwoma pottery villages of Tongwinjamb, Washkuk, Melawei, Bangwis, Meno, Baglam or Urambanj.

When Margaret Tuckson and Patricia May visited these villages in the 1970s and 80s, pottery was still used for cooking and the storage of sago and played an important part in ritual and ceremony. Ceremonial bowls known as 'aumar' or 'au'maka' were used as containers for food during intitiation for Kwoma men and never used for cooking.

These bowls are covered with detailed patterns on the outside surface, chip-carved by men on leather-hard pots. The decoration covers the entire surface apart from an area left uncarved on the base point. The rim is often decorated with undulating or sawtooth bands.

Kwoma believe in a complex pantheon of spirits, which fall into two categories: 'bush' or 'water' spirits occupying streams, boulders, or other natural features, collectively termed (in pidgin) masalai; and clan spirits depicted by ceremonial carvings. The 'face' seen on this bowl might represent Waskapa, a particular spirit entity, according to Helen Dennett, who has comprehensively documented the markings on pottery of the Sepik region,

For further information see: Helen Dennett and Paul Dennett, 'Mak bilong Sepik: a selection of designs and paintings from the Sepik River', Wirui Press, Wewak, 1975; and Margaret Tuckson and Patricia May, 'The traditional pottery of Papua New Guinea', Bay Books, Sydney, 1982.


Cultural origin

Kwoma people


mid 20th century

Media category


Materials used



20.5 cm height; 21.0 cm diam at widest point; 15.0 cm rim opening

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

Kwoma people

Works in the collection