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Early 20th C. New Guinea Maprik Wood Lintel

Oceania, Papua New Guinea, Abelam tribe from the Maprik/Wosera area, ca. early to mid 20th century CE. A massive wood carved lintel depicting six round, carved, anthropomorphic faces, each within a border, each separated by a hornbill head with long, downcurved beak. The two ends of the lintel feature two identical rodent-like animals with small triangular ears that lie flat on their backs. The human faces are painted with a profusion of dots and colorful shapes in red, white, yellow, and black, denoting face paint and tattooing. The lintel is pierced through in four places, in two groups of two, for suspension above the doorway of a house. Size: 8.5" W x 104" H (21.6 cm x 264.2 cm)

Dramatically carved and painted lintels like this one are part of the Haus Tambaran (an ancestor worship house with a steeply pointed roof). The Haus Tambaran is a specifically male space within the culture, and also relates to the yam cult that has developed around the staple crop of the people in this region. The faces on this example are meant to represent venerated ancestors, while the hornbills are a basic design element in much Papuan art. They are seen as symbolic of head hunting and the transfer of power. The bird also unites male and female characteristics that are important in initiation rituals.

See a similar item at the British Museum: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=485775&partId=1

Condition: Some small chips and cracks commensurate with age, but intact and with nicely preserved pigment.

Provenance: private Newport Beach, California, USA collection

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