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Papuan peoples may have come up the rivers on the north side of New Guinea, crossed the central mountains along still existing trade routes, then come down the Fly River on the south side to the Gulf. They appear to have spread out from Kiwai Island, developed a major cultural center around Goaribari Island and continued east along the Papuan Gulf and the swampy delta mazes of its tributaries.
Figure 1: Map of the Papuan Gulf, Papua New Guinea.
Figure 2: Gope ancestor board. Small, unnamed gopes are given to uninitiated boys. Larger, named gopes guard clan areas or skull displays. White lime pigment in the recesses accents the carved design. Similar tablets are also called kwoi and hohao. (More photos of gope boards and other carvings in Papuan Gulf Carvings.)
The Papuan tribes settled among or displaced Melanesian tribes already in the Gulf, perhaps relatively recently. Sago is the staple food supplemented with hunting, fishing and small gardens.
There was trade between groups as well as warfare. Melanesian Motu trading canoes used to sail west from the Port Moresby area every year to exchange thousands of pots for tons of sago with the Papuans of the Elema and Purari Delta areas. Angu (Kukukuku) hill tribes swept down in lightning raids.
Figure 3: Kanipu mask made of bark cloth (tapa) over a basketry framework. They may represent bush spirits. These masks are worn by initiates in some areas. Kanipu also guard coconuts designated as tabu for use in ceremonies. (More photos of kanipu and other masks in Papuan Gulf Masks.)
Papuans may be related to the Iatmul on the Sepik River and to the Asmat and Marind-anim farther west along the coast. Their cultures share the concepts of:
Ancestors are important, but not necessarily revered. The important quality is called imunu, the power that pervades things, including ritual objects. Imunu is personified in the masked ceremonies. Most representations are of humans/ancestors, not plants or animals. Traditional cultural ceremonies on a large scale existed into the 1950s, but declined as Christian missionaries converted the villages.
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Links in this site:
Books used to research this series, especially Art Styles of the Papuan Gulf, by Douglas Newton.
Aida, Life and Ceremony of the Gogodala, by A. L. Crawford, 1981. Classic book on the Gogodala people's revival of their traditional carving and the attempt to integrate traditional and contemporary culture into a whole. Two earlier booklets by Crawford are:
Art of the Pacific, by Anne D'Alleva, 1998. Introduction to themes and issues of Pacific Islands art. Chapters on New Guinea, Island Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia. Color photographs, time line, glossary, bibliography. Papuan Gulf sections: pages 49, 50, 52, 56, 57.
Art of the Papuan Gulf, by Jacquelyn Lewis-Harris, the Saint Louis Art Museum, Winter 1996 Bulletin, New Series, Vol. 22, Number 1, #1. Catalog of artifacts from the Morton D. May collection. Color photographs of the artifacts, black and white historical photographs, short introduction to the culture of the Papuan Gulf, glossary and bibliography.
Art Styles of the Papuan Gulf, by Douglas Newton, 1961. Classic, detailed work on the art of the Papuan Gulf. Discussion of the tribes and cultural areas, ceremonies and art styles, black and white photographs, maps and catalog of the exhibition. Chart of distribution of types and names of objects, page 36.
The Artifacts of Papua New Guinea, produced for the Handcraft Industry of Papua New Guinea. Color photographs and short text for hundreds of artifacts from Papua New Guinea. Designations of common, scare, etc. are not up-to-date. Papuan Gulf artifacts: pages 3, 9, 10, 19-22, 27-29.
Frank Hurley in Papua, Photographs of the 1920-1923 Expeditions, by Jim Specht and John Fields, 1984. Large format black and white historical photographs with contemporary commentary and excerpts from Hurley's diaries. Papuan Gulf photographs: pages 128-191.
Hohao, the uneasy survival of an art form in the Papuan Gulf, by Ulli Beier and Albert Maori Kiki , 1970. History of the Elema people, notes on surviving Hohaos following the destruction of the Eravo ceremonial houses, plus contemporary carving of Hohao boards around Orokolo Bay. Black and white photos.
Hevehe, Art, Economics and Status in the Papuan Gulf, Monograph Series Number 18, by Christin J. Mamiya and Eugenis C. Sumnik, 1982. Hevehe masked ceremonial cycle of the Elema People of Orokolo Bay in the Papua Gulf, Papua New Guinea, black and white photographs from F. E. Williams' Drama of Orokolo, 1940, and of the museum's artifacts collected from 1900 to 1935, bibliography.
Oceanic Art, by Adrenne L. Kaeppler, Christian Kaufmann and Douglas Newton, 1997. Massive overview of Oceanic art, short, scholarly descriptions of each area, 900 illustrations including 260 color plates. The Gulf of Papua and Fly River regions: pages 601-602.
Pieces of Paradise, Australian Natural History Supplement No. 1, 1988. Color photographs of Oceanic art and artifacts, plus commentary on their contemporary context, from the permanent collection. Papuan Gulf: pages 10, 12, 22-27, 34.
Plumes from Paradise: Trade Cycles in Outer Southeast Asia & Their Impact on New Guinea & Nearby Islands Until 1920, by Pamela Swadling with contributions by Roy Wagner and Billai Laba, 1996. Documented history of cycles of trade in bird of paradise skins, spices, etc. from New Guinea to Southeast Asia and beyond for over 5,000 years. Detailed maps, charts, some photos. Trans Fly Coast, Merauke region: pages 153-203, 285-307.
Protection Power and Display, Shields of Island Southeast Asia and Melanesia, edited by Andrew Tavarelli, 1995. Shields from Indonesia, the Philippines and Melanesia. Black and white photographs, 5 articles on shields as artistic forms as well as anthropological and ethnographic information. Papuan Gulf: pages 78, 79, 92, color plate on back cover.
Ritual Arts of the South Seas, the Morton D. May Collection, the St. Louis Art Museum, 1975. Artifacts from Australia, Indonesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, maps, black and white photographs. Papuan Gulf: pages 51-73.
The Seized Collections, text by Dirk Smidt, 1975. Catalog of confiscated artifacts from the famous "Seized Collections". Section on the Gulf of Papua, black and white photographs of artifacts: pages 7-33.
To Catch a Crocodile, Hunting in Papua New Guinea, by Peter Pinney, 1976. George Craig was one of the premier crocodile hunters and artifact collectors in the Fly River and Papuan Gulf before PNG independence. Pinney goes with him and his crew for several months up the Fly and even into Irian Jaya. Realistic portrait of the men, time and place. Map, black and white photos. George is on-line at "Marineland Melanesia"
Traditional Art and Craft, Volume One, illustrated by R. Christensen, Madang Teachers College, 1974. Small volume of black and white drawings of artifacts from all the cultural areas of New Guinea including Irian Jaya. Sometimes available from the Christian Bookstores in PNG. Papuan Gulf artifacts: pages 13-20.
Tribal Arts-Le Monde de l'Art Tribal: Marupai: Magic Amulets of the Papuan Gulf, Spring 1995, pp. 55-59.
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Artifacts on this site are collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. More background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. Carolyn Leigh, P.O. Box 85284, Tucson, AZ 85754-5284 USA, Art-Pacific at http://www.art-pacific.com/