Headrest, Huon Gulf
Huon Gulf, Papua New Guinea, 19th century
Length : 18,5 cm
Provenance : Private collection, Berlin
This extremely ancient headrest is carved with less details than the majority of Huon Gulf headrests
to appear on the market, but it depicts powerful ancestor figures of a rare archaic style. They
seem to wear masks similar to those found on Tami Islands.
In his book of reference about the “Art in North-East New Guinea” (1961), Tibor Bodrogi describes
four types of headrests known in the Huon Gulf. This particular example belongs to those
including two human figures that have their backs turned to each other and looking outward.
The headrest is supported indirectly through the open-work arcs rising above their heads. Unlike
the other type where the figures hold the upper slab directly on their heads. The idea of holding
a burden is suggested by the figures who bend back forming a bridge, bearing their load with the
hands resting on the thighs (p. 95)
As far as other functions are concerned, we only know that in case of a death, on the evening following
demise, the relatives would go to the spot where the deceased person used to spend most
of his time, and chew betel. There they deposit the headrest that belonged to the deceased, then
hide themselves and invoke the dead with the following words : “if you are here, come and fetch
your headrest and pouch”.
After a while the relatives come out of their place of concealment and return the objects to the
village (Zahn, 1911 p.318).
BODROGI Tibor, Art in North-East New Guinea, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest 1961, pages 91-95.
ZAHN J., Die Jabim, in Neuhauss (1911) vol. III, page 318
5 800 euros