Art Through Time: A Global View
Ceremony and Society Art: House Post Figure
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.
Roy W. Hamilton, Curator for Asian and Pacific Collections, Fowler Museum at UCLA
“We tend to think of marriage or initiation rites for young people, but in societies where these kinds of secret societies, which is what they’re often termed in Africa, or cult groups or religious associations of various types exist, there are often many, many levels of initiation. And in Guinea they talk about this happening once every five years or so, where an adult male is expected to rise to a new level of status by performing certain events in the community. And the dedication of the ceremonial house—of a very elaborate ceremonial house—is the highest achievement. So, the dedication of the ceremonial house reflects greatly on his status and his standing in the community.”
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).