Illustration principale
Headrest, Huon Gulf
Huon Gulf, Papua New Guinea, 19th century

Wood
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
Price : 5.800 euros