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Tambanum is the largest village on the river with numerous active carvers. Many younger men go to work in the towns, mines and plantations. They form large camps in the coastal cities where they also carve and market their work.
Figure 1: Mask with clan motifs. Similar designs are painted on the participants' faces during ceremonies.
In Port Moresby, they carve other villages' marks as well as their own extensive traditional repertoire. A number of their village masks are illustrated in our article on Masks from the Middle Sepik River.
Figure 2:This is a Tambanum version of a Ramu River figure. The carver added color to make it easier to sell. It was purchased from the carver through a Port Moresby artifact workshop.
Margaret Mead and many other anthropologists have done extensive field work in Tambanum and it is a stop for most tour boats, so people are tolerant of outside visitors. In the dry season, a road may be open down to the Sepik River opposite Tambanum. The village sometimes has a backpacker-style guesthouse or villagers who provide simple lodging in their homes.
Figure 3: Iatmul payback bone dagger with clay head painted with clan designs. The face represents the person to be avenged in the payback ceremony. The payback account is usually settled with the killing of an animal or a bird. This dagger is on traditional lines, but was made for sale to tourists.
At dawn and at dusk, hundreds of canoes of all sizes line the long stretch of mud bank and cliff below the village. When the river is low, there are small gardens between the river and the higher ground where the houses are built. At one time, most of the houses had large, protective gable masks are woven directly into the face of the house under the eve. The Sepik has eaten away at one end of the bank, destroying a large Haus Tambaran and threatening more of the village.
When artifact buyers or tour boats come, the carvers line their work in the shade alongside the path in front of their house or in a clearing that belongs to their clan. It is a very long walk through the three sections of the village. When we are buying it seems that we will never reach the end of the lines.
Figure 4: Tambanum woman cooking sago pancakes in a Koiwat clay bowl.
Besides their masks, the Tambanums are well-known for their netted string animals representing clan totems like the pig and similar, life-size, dance tumbuans depicting clan birds like the cassowary and other spirit figures. They make large, realistic carvings of crocodiles, low tables in the shape of crocodiles and many other smaller items. They also trade pottery from the Biwat River, Koiwat and Kamangauwi Villages and the Chambri Lake Villages.
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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.
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