Enlarge 1 / 3
  1. 70909_a.jpg 1/3
  2. 70909_b.jpg 2/3
  3. 70909.jpg 3/3
Iatmul people East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea
Post from a ceremonial house [Housepost with figure, snake and crocodile; reverse side with mask at top and wave motif down entire length] Early to mid 20th century prior to 1970 Place made: Kanganaman village, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea Melanesia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, wood, conus shell (replacement)
Primary Insc: Papua New Guinea
Dimensions: 352.0 h x 40.0 w x 27.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1970
Accession No: NGA 70.36
  • Stephen Kellner Gallery, Sydney.

The villages of the Iatmul people have at their centre the famous ngeko ceremonial houses, which act as the keeping place of ritual objects essential to the wellbeing of the community. Each of its posts is elaborately carved from exceptionally heavy and dense ironwood. [1] According to oral history, when the central pillars of a new ceremonial house were to be erected, recently acquired human heads were placed in the post-hole as a way to ensure the building’s spiritual power. [2]

The medium-sized post from the Palimbei central Iatmul people village of Kanganaman holds a wealth of esoteric imagery: a clan ancestor, snakes, a crocodile and the large face of the waken spirit reside within the post. There are surprisingly few large architectural objects from the Sepik region in Australian collections and this example is perhaps the largest. Due to their weight and size it seems that house posts presented a logistical problem for collectors in the early twentieth century. [3]

[1] Jendraschek 2012 p 544 gives the general term Kwali’k for house posts.
[2] Coiffier 2014 p 45.
[3] This house post was acquired from the Sydney-based Oceanic art specialist dealer Stephen Kellner in 1970 who supplied at least one other house post, the upper section, also from Kanganaman village, to the Berlin Museum (VI 46943) in 1963. See Kelm 1966 vol 1 plate 379.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2015

From: Crispin Howarth Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2015