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4 / Ceremony and Society

House Post Figure
House Post Figure
Artist / Origin Kambot (Tin Dama) artist, Karem River, Lower Sepik region, Papua New Guinea
Region: Oceania
Date 19th century
Material Wood, paint, and fiber
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 8 ft. (2.44 m.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller

expert perspective

Roy W. HamiltonCurator for Asian and Pacific Collections, Fowler Museum at UCLA

Additional Resources

Craig, Barry, ed. Living Spirits With Fixed Abodes: The Masterpieces Exhibition of the Papua New Guinea National Museum and Art Gallery. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009.

D’Alleva, Anne. Arts of the Pacific Islands. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1998.

Harrison, Simon J. “Ritual Hierarchy and Secular Equality in a Sepik River Village.” American Ethnologist 12.3 (August 1985): 413–426.

“House Post Figure [Papua New Guinea] (1978.412.823).” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Web site. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ho/10/ocm/ho_1978.412.823.htm (April 2008).

House Post Figure

» Kambot (Tin Dama) artist, Karem River, Lower Sepik region, Papua New Guinea

This carved and painted figure, made by the Kambot people of the Lower Sepik region of Papua New Guinea, was not originally created as a stand-alone sculpture.

It formed part of a large post supporting the roof of a ceremonial house. Ceremonial houses throughout the Pacific Islands were often decorated with imagery associated with the given community’s historical and mythical past. This figure is thought to represent one of the Kambot’s founding ancestors, whose spirit would at times occupy the house post.

Carved with figures like these, posts served as the physical supports of the ceremonial house as well as the symbolic foundation for the society that would congregate within the space. The center of artistic and religious life for the Kambot men’s society, the ceremonial house was the backdrop for a variety of rituals, including those associated with rites of passage and social elevation. Images like this one contain iconography that would be understood only by initiates or leaders of the society. In this way, they carried the added function of affirming community identity and belonging.