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Art-Pacific (Carolyn Leigh - Ron Perry): Guide to artifacts

Lower Ramu River Carvings, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea

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[Oval wood mask with curved nose: 17k]

Figure 1: Mask from the lower Ramu River. Red and blue enamel paint with traces of white lime pigment dots. Eyes are shell.

Lower Ramu artifacts have similarities to carvings from the Lower Sepik River and adjacent coastal areas. Masks and slit-gong drums from the Lower Ramu are traded along the coast as far as the Murik Lakes and out to Manam Island and the Schouten Islands in the Bismarck Sea.

This mask is used in ceremonial dances. The mask is not worn directly on the face, but is part of a towering cane dance framework (tumbuan) covered with thousands of feathers.

We saw 6 frames being constructed in 1986 at Banis Pig near Bosmun. A large area (banis) had been fenced off with high woven mats (blind) in front of the men's house. Only initiated men worked in this banis. Each frame was about 12 feet (4 meters) tall and quite narrow like a bulbous spire. Brilliant red, yellow, white and black feathers were applied in flat, over-lapping layers with the same density that flowers are put on a Rose Bowl Parade float. Photos of similar tumbuans from this area show fan and cone shapes.

The tumbuans were to dance at the next full moon, about two weeks away, if they were finished. Otherwise, they would appear the following moon. The men didn't mind if we watched them work, but no photos were allowed. During the ceremony, colorful leaves, flowers, fruits and massive displays of white shell jewelry are added to each costume. A long, full grass skirt is tied along the lower edge of the cane to conceal the dancer inside.


Figure 2: Old slit gong drum (garamut in Pisin English) under a Men's Haus in Damar, behind Buliva off the Lower Ramu River.

[Slit gong drum: 37k]

This garamut and others in the area are gazetted by the Papua New Guinea National Museum and may not be exported. Some of the men were cranky about this. They felt it was their garamut and if the Museum wanted it, they should buy it. Otherwise, the villagers should be free to sell it if they wanted to.

The garamut is almost identical to one pictured in The Seized Collections, pp 57-59. The following information is from Dirk Smidt's description in that catalog except for the notes in ().

The garamut was collected from the village of Kayan (Kaian) near the mouth of the Ramu River which is a center of slit gong drum manufacture. From there slit gongs are traded to neighboring areas. The openwork beneath the human figure on the end lug represents an upside down animal, possibly a possum. The incised designs on the side were interpreted as animals or parts of animals. (On a similar drum collected by Peter Hallinan, the designs were said to represent human faces.)
Garamuts are kept in ceremonial houses and only men are allowed to play them. They are used for music during ceremonies and for signaling. (Sometimes when we come into a village unannounced, an old man will go and beat on the garamut to signal the people to come in from their gardens if they have artifacts to sell. The deep, resonating voice of the slit gong drum carries for miles along the river and hills.)
Garamuts are considered to have a spirit and they have names. They are powerful like masks and figures. They can kill people or make them sick. A garamut may take on other forms and walk at night. Garamuts are used in initiation ceremonies.

[Slit gong detail of long-nosed man and small crouching bird: 16k]

Figure 3: Detail of the end lug of the Damar drum showing ancestor/clan figure, possibly a possum underneath and a small bird on the right.

Next: Middle Ramu River Carvings

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Figure 4: Detail of lug from another slit gong drum. This type of figure is typical of the Lower Ramu River and is often used to decorate canoe prows. It may represent a half-human/half-sea eagle ancestor from this area. The Wokam Village and Keram River figures with similar elongated, beak-like noses from the Middle Ramu may also represent a similar ancestor spirit who is part human and part eagle.

[Map of the Lower and Middle Ramu River, Mandang Province, PNG: 8k]

[Slit gong figure of long-nosed man: 19k]


Diary entry, 1986: Lower Ramu Masks

Next: Middle Ramu River Carvings

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More articles/photos of NEW GUINEA MASKS:

Middle Sepik River | Angoram | Kambaramba | Tambanum | Hunstein | Imbando and Taway | Mumeri | Blackwater River | Lower Ramu River | Middle Ramu River | basket yam masks | wooden yam masks | Baining | Sulka | Tolai dukduk | Malagan | Papuan Gulf | Gogodala | String and Things | Skin as Ground... | more INDONESIAN MASKS: Bali and Java | Dyak

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Collecting New Guinea art in the field since 1964.

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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/