Malagan funerary carving


About this object

A New Ireland Malagan wood openwork ancestor memorial board, with a combination of carving in high and low relief, comprising a central figure of a large hornbill in profile devouring a snake and holding a uli ancestor figure, also in profile to him. A complex design of curving snakes and birds surround the two figures. Above in low relief is a fret-work design of human masks and feathers. The head of a fish is depicted at the top right corner with a snake emerging from its mouth, and the right edge notched. The eyes of the main figures are made of sea snail operculae (the flaps that close the snails' shells). The whole board is carved on the front and back, but fully painted on the front only, in black, orange-red and white.

'Malagan' is the name given to a type of funerary and memorial ceremony in northern New Ireland. It is also the name given to the masks and sculptures, such as this one, which are specially made for and used in those ceremonies and feasts during which the objects are displayed in the honour of one or more dead persons. This Malagan frieze shows the battle between opposites, represented by birds and snakes. Originally it would have been displayed mounted on a pole in front of a Malagan display house.

Object specifics

  • Type
    Religion; Art
  • Culture
  • Artist/Maker
  • Place made
    Oceania: Melanesia: Papua New Guinea: Bismarck Islands: New Ireland
  • Date made
    1910 about
  • Materials
    Pigment; Wood; Sea Snail Operculae
  • Location
    World Museum, Level 3, World Cultures
  • Acquisition
    Purchased at Sotheby's Auction House, 1966
  • Collector
  • Place collected
  • Date collected
    1966 before
  • Measurements
    380 mm x 1095 mm
  • Note
    More on the life of the Malagan:
  • Related people
    Sotheby's ( Previous owner)


Previous owners

  • Sotheby's

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1966
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
Object view = Humanities
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