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]
Somp, worn by leader of a clan
mid 20th century
wood, red ochre pigment, white pigment, plant seeds, rattan, bark, plant fibre string, sedge grass
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
Not on display
© Mendi people, under the endorsement of the Pacific Islands Museums Association's (PIMA) Code of Ethics
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 Oct 1974 -
Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 May 2014–10 Aug 2014
Referenced in 3 publications
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. cat.no. H19
Natalie Wilson (Editor), Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, Sydney, 2014, 66 (colour illus.), 159. cat.no. 9