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In line with decisions made by the National Cabinet as communicated by the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, the Art Gallery of New South Wales is currently closed but will reopen to the public on 1 June. The Gallery will be observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of all visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the State. More information




Pacific art

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Urungwall (sacred figure)

early 1900-mid 20th century


Abelam people

Papua New Guinea


According to Dr Fred Gerrits, who collaborated with villagers to document Abelam cultural history during the 1970s, this 'urungwall' (sacred figure) would have been used exclusively as a resonator during Tambaran cult (initiation) rituals. Kept hidden from women and uninitiated men in the 'sakindungai' (secret area) within the 'korombo' (ceremonial house), 'urungwall' were ‘sounded’ upon arrival, daily during their stay, and again at the departure of the 'ngwallndu' spirits. 'Gwangi' (long bamboo trumpets) were placed into the upper end of the 'urungwall' and blown, with the sound reverberating in the hollow cylinder. 'Urungwall' are considered to be extremely sacred. They were made by and belonged to one person, but they were also used by the whole community.

This 'urungwall' has the face of a 'waiwu' (human) with a long nose, a feature considered beautiful in Abelam society.

[entry from Exhibition Guide for 'Melanesian art: redux', 2018, cat no 23]


Other Title

Male ancestor figure (surmounted by two birds)

Cultural origin

Abelam people


early 1900-mid 20th century

Materials used

wood, clay, natural earth pigments


146.0 x 31.0 x 23.0 cm


Purchased 1965


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Abelam people

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 2 publications


Tony Tuckson, Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 46. 95; 'Ancestor figure, male, surmounted by two birds. Abelam. Wood, painted. 147 h. Rep: Quarterly, April 1972. Collected 1965'

Editor Unknown (Editor), Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, Sydney, Apr 1972, illus..