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Pacific art

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Sombti (ritual object, part of a somb)

mid 20th century
collected 1969


Unknown Artist


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]


Other Titles

Somp, worn by leader of a clan

Kina wallet


Cultural origin

Mendi people


mid 20th century
collected 1969

Media category

Ceremonial object

Materials used

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

b - leaf bundle, 25 x 16 cm, approximate dimensions of leaf bundle


Purchased 1977


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

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. H19

Natalie Wilson (Editor), Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, Sydney, 2014, 66 (colour illus.), 159. 9