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

Skin as Ground...

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[Old Kukukuku woman in barkcloth cape: 17k]

Thick, light colored clays are used all over New Guinea to indicate mourning and death. Deceased ancestors and bush spirits are part of most New Guinea peoples day-to-day, if unseen, world. The Leahys were first assumed to be returning ancestors by the Highland peoples because of their white skin.

This Angu woman, her body and face coated in yellow clay, is part of a performance group, but yellow and whitish clays are still commonly used by people mourning the death of a close relative. Heavy, multiple strands of coix seeds (Job's tears) are worn in some areas with the strands removed one at a time until the mourning period is finished.

[Lines of men in orange and white stripe body clay. Each line rolls a large log along their arms as they dance forward.: 31k]

Sometimes colored stripes signify mourning, but these men are rolling logs as they dance and the stuck-out tongue is a sign of strength and aggressiveness. They wear conical barkcloth hats and leaf and fern laplaps.

[Closeup of double circle of dancers in full red, yellow, white and black striped body paint: 37k]

These women are probably from near Kagua in the Southern Highlands Province. The massed effect of their bodies is like an op art painting, but much more dynamic.

[Mud Man in grey body clay and bulky mud helmet mask decorated with cow horns, gesturing with his long, extended bamboo fingers: 17k]

Asaro River area mudmen from the Eastern Highlands create these very heavy clay masks modeled over a cane and barkcloth or burlap framework. White is the color of death, spirits and ghosts and can be used to frighten enemies with the associated power. Teeth, cow horns and long fingers of bamboo add to the theatrical effect. The cracking clay is supposed to represent decaying flesh.

The masks are fragile to transport because the clay is unfired. The mudmen are popular with tourists and have made money appearing for them, so now other groups copy the idea. Photograph by Scott Perry.

[Line of dancers with python: 36k]

Some groups compete in a division for contemporary dances and skits which are often humorous with lots of sexual joking or mock battles. These snake dancers were a big hit. They carried carved wooden snakes and a big, live python as well.

Their black soot and oil base body paint is traditionally used by warriors to indicate power. They have accented the black with white skeleton designs plus tusked pig skulls for laplaps. Photograph by Scott Perry.

Photographs copyright Scott Lewis Perry, 1998.

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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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Order now: Art Dealer in the Last Unknown, Ron Perry and New Guinea Art, the early years: 1964 - 1973 by Carolyn Leigh and Ron Perry, 320 pages of adventure, over 450 early photographs - join Ron in the jungles of New Guinea on his search for tribal art.


Melanesian art TOC | Map of art areas of Melanesia
Papua New Guinea: Highlands: body art - Bundi tapa - jewelry/dancers | Karawari and Blackwater Rivers: masks - carvings - map | Massim: artifacts- Trobriand Kula - map | Kula canoe | New Britain: Baining - Sulka - Tolai dukduk | New Ireland: Malagan | Ramu River: masks - carvings - map | Sepik River: masks - carvings - villages - map | Papuan Gulf: masks - carvings - map - Gogodala - Kukukuku
other areas: Asmat | Solomon Islands: crafts - jewelry - map
art and craft:
barkcloth (tapa) | body art | cane and fiber figures | canoes and prows | jewelry/dancers | masks - Middle Sepik | phallocrypts | pottery - Chambri | shields | story boards | suspension hooks | weapons | yam masks - fiber | yam masks - wood

Indonesian art TOC | Dyak baby carriers and masks | furniture | Java folk art | Lombok baskets | Lombok lontar boxes | masks from Bali and Java | puppets

China: Bai textiles/art TOC | baby carriers | baby hats | woodblock prints

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Artifacts on this site were collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. 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. by Carolyn Leigh is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0