Wooden figure "Iatmul"

500 €

Iatmul people, Middle Sepik, Papua New Guinea, early 20th century, private collection from Finland.

The homeland of the Iatmul people is along the middle course of the Sepik river in the Papua New Guinea. Sepik is the longest river on the island of New Guinea. In the Asia-Pacific region, the Sepik River's region is thought to be the largest freshwater wetlands that still remain uncontaminated by humans and industry. Enormous, over 1,126 km long Sepik River meander slowly through the forested lowlands, floodplains and backwater swamps. Along the banks of the river and its many tributaries live sparsely remote villages, scarcely contacted by the outside world.  Many of the villages along East Sepik River did not have contact with Western world until the late 19th century and maintained a lifestyle that changed little for thousand years. The people of diverse and ecologically rich Sepik region speaks more than 250 different languages are knitted together of trading and cultural interaction.

Sepik is called a ”living gallery of tribal art”. The Sepik is one of the most profuse and diverse art producing regions of the world. The numerous different tribes living along the river produce magnificent wood carvings and clay pottery. In the same way, each clan's traditions are unique, so is their art. Unique in the style, colors, and design, and taking various shapes depending on the villages, stools, masks, totems, house posts, hooks, drums and shields. Many of these totems and masks aim to protect the villages and clans against evil spirits.

The largest language and culture group along the river is the Iathmul people (c. 10,000 people). The life is centered on the river. Men fish from their traditional dugout canoes to provide a primarily diet of fish, while women make sago out of the sago palm tree. Iatmul villages, containing 300-1000 people, are built high on the riverbanks. Each village has one or more the impressive ceremonial houses called ngeko, the keeping place for sacred musical instruments, sculptures and other ritual objects essential to the wellbeing of the community. The men’s ceremonial houses was usually built in the center of an open space, the dancing ground. Older Iatmul men’s houses were huge buildings up to 20 meters high and 40 meters long. These ceremonial centers served as men’s assembly houses in daily life and as religious centers during rituals.

A stunning carved wooden seated ancestor figure with both male and female attributes, cowrie shell eyes and striking facial paint (meant to indicate tattoos). On the figure's back is an enormous bird, probably hornbill. It is also painted dramatically in the same red, white, and yellow color scheme as the human figure. Good condition. Age-related wear. Natural drying split running down the front. Faded colors. Size approx. 53,0cm x 13,0cm x 11,5cm.