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This style of Sepik River female figure is originally from Yenichenmangua Village.(1) Their carvings are usually plainer with no body painting. Tambanum Village carvers recently began making this primal woman. They often decorate her with their clan designs. One version has bat wings.
She is sometimes referred to as hewe-meri or two-kina meri because of her split-leg stance, but she is actually a protector of women. Her traditional name varies from village to village depending on the language group. She is said to have great protective power over women. If she sees a man abusing a women, she can turn him into woman. People will tell of hearing a story where this actually happened in the recent past.
Powerful female figures are common in clan stories. Many creation stories feature a woman who gives birth to the first members of the clan. She often discovers, or is given by a spirit animal or bird, the knowledge and tools that the villagers will need to survive in the jungle. A typical saying is that women had the power or discovered the knowledge, but the men took it from them.
The men's Haus Tambarans on the Sepik River are said to be female. One end gable frequently has a large split-leg carving of a powerful female ancestor figure as part of the roof beam supports.
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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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