Malagan funerary carving



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.