Ceremonial Lintel, Duke d'York Islands
Duke of York Islands, East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea, 1800-1900
Wood, natural pigments
Length : 293 cm
Provenance : Pierre Langlois, Paris
Collection Madame Bienaymé, France
The Duke of York Islands (formerly known in German as “Neulauenburg”) are a group of islands located in St George’s Channel between New Britain and New Ireland and form part of the Bis- marck Archipelago. They were named in 1767 by Philip Carteret to honour Prince Edward, son of Frederick, Prince of Wales and younger brother of George III of the United Kingdom.
This important ceremonial lintel is quite unique as it shares the characteristic form of a malagan sculpture of this type along iconographic elements from New Ireland -such as the three vavara sun motifs-, combined with figurative heads showing stylistic features originating from New Brit- ain and the Duke of York Islands. The explanation to this cultural syncretism lies in the proximity between the two archipelagos and the fact that the settlement of the islands in between came from the southern part of New Ireland. From 1875, German planters arrived in the region and brought workforce from New Ireland to most of these tiny islands.
The faces, painted in white with a contrasting arabesque surrounding a grimacing mouth, clearly reminds the rare lorr masks, of which the Barbier-Mueller Museum example collected in 1895 by Festetics de Tolna is the most relevant example.
The principal source of knowledge about the vanishing cultures of this region was Danish an- thropologue Richard Parkinson, who explains that the word lorr refers to both the masks and the skull, and is linked to ancestors’ spirits and death. We believe these sculptures were all related to funerary ceremonies, and intended to be destroyed afterwards. Thus, the preservation of this im- portant sculpture is a highly significant testimony of an extremely scarce and little known corpus.