The towering ceremonial houses of the Abelam people - who live in the area from the grass plains of the Sepik River to the foothills of the Prince Alexander Mountains - are known as 'korombo'. They are the sites of important festivals, including the initiation of men into the spirit cult, and rituals revolving around the cultivation of very long 'ceremonial' yams. Known as 'wapi', these yams are only grown by men.
Painted facades – or 'bai' – of 'korombo' are created from panels made of flattened sago palm leaf stalks. Inside the 'korombo', sacred objects, including 'urungwall' carved figures, 'baba' woven masks, and individual paintings such as this example, also known as 'bai', are kept for use in initiation-cult and yam-cult ceremonies. 'Urungwall' may be used as resonators, to imitate the voice of the 'ngwallndu', the most powerful spirits of the Abelam.
[revised entry from Exhibition Guide for 'Melanesian art: redux', 2018, cat no 22]
mid 20th century
sago palm petiole, natural pigments
108.0 x 38.1 cm
Gift of Roy Harpur 1963
© Abelam people, under the endorsement of the Pacific Islands Museums Association's (PIMA) Code of Ethics