Harold and Mary Cohen : The Papua New Guinea Slide Collection
Object ID:
Men's House Figures, Large Ones Up Close
Palambei (art village), Middle Sepik, Papua New Guinea
Three large carved and painted in black, red, and white pigments with feathers spirit figures. Full figures with large oval head/faces. Pig tusk and shell decorations.

A close—up of two "speaker chairs" and various other ceremonial sculptures fill in the center of a haus tambaran (spirit house) in Palambei village. Each spirit chair, ancestral mask, amulet, and ceremonial costume is carved and painted wood, with hammered bark, plant fibers, or bamboo with traditional designs that symbolize their beliefs. Similar spirit houses are seen in each village along the Middle Sepik River even though villagers may attend a Christian church. In many villages, only a religious school is available. The large carved heads are the fronts of "speaking chairs." Each serves 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. Scars leave a raised pattern that forms a tribal totem, such as, a crocodile or snake.
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