Description: Indonesia, western Irian Jaya, Asmat people, ca. mid 20th century CE. The hand-carved wooden prow of a spirit canoe, also known as a wuramon. This is a long, narrow, hollowed-out boat, with an abstract pattern carved on the exterior in relief. The pattern features flowing organic patterns, spirals and loops, and is detailed with areas of zoomorphic, reptilian bands. The tip of the prow has an avian figure perched atop it, and a beak-like opening below the pointed end. Size: 2.9" L x 5.45" W x 36.25" H (7.4 cm x 13.8 cm x 92.1 cm)
Wuramon are supernatural vessels, made as ceremonial carvings. They are created for only one use during the "emak cem," or the "bone house feast," which is a ceremony that celebrates both the spirits of the recently dead and the initiation of young boys. When there are enough boys in the village of the appropriate age, a special house known as an "emaktsjim" is built within a village so that the boys can stay isolated, fasting. During the day, the wuramon are carved, and at night, they are hidden under sago leaves. When the day comes for the initiation ceremony, the wuramon emerges from the emaktsjim to be taken to the river and symbolically launched.
You can read more about the complex ceremony involving the wuramon from the Lowell D. Holmes Museum of Anthropology, Wichita, Kansas, USA: http://holmes.anthropology.museum/asmat/soulshipfull.html
Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection; ex Julius Carlebach, New York, USA; collected in the field by Countess Ingeborg de Beausacq, before 1959; Ingeborg de Beausacq (1910-2003) was an American photographer and explorer of German origin; She led an adventurous life, lived in Paris, Brazil, and New York; she visited Thailand, India, Pakistan, Lebanon, Greece, and Nepal. She spent three years in Papua New Guinea (1957-59) where she lived with the natives, sharing their life, photographed their initiation rites, wrote their history and bought art objects.
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Condition Report: Some small, age-related cracks and a tiny loss at the pointed end. Encrusted deposits and a rich, dark patina.
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