Harold and Mary Cohen : The Papua New Guinea Slide Collection
Object ID:
Men's House Ancestral Figure with Crocodile Skin
Palambei (art village), Middle Sepik, Papua New Guinea
Two large Ancestral figures with black, white, and red pigments. Carved wood. Central image has oval shaped face, tongue sticking out, round eyes.

In a haus tambaran (spirit house where the men gather) in Palambei village, two large facial images are each part of wooden stools called "speaking chairs." They serve as a judge's bench before which both sides in a village dispute present their arguments. The chair is also used during initiation rites when boys become men. The initiate must sit in the chair as the tattoo artist cuts lines in the flesh of his arms, chest and back. Wood ashes, oil and mud are rubbed into the wounds to stop the bleeding and make them fester so that upon healing, the skin will be permanently raised. The chair on the left has carving of crocodile skin. Many of the clans believe that man was created by a crocodile, the same animal that they fear because of their deadly attacks. Many sculptures show tongues sticking out as a symbol of virility.
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