Lot 6
  • 6

Hook Figure, Bahinemo, Nigiru Village, Hunstein Mountains, Sepik Region, Papua New Guinea

15,000 - 25,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Wood
  • Height: 50 1/4 in (127.5 cm)
Gra or Garra


Collected in situ by Wayne Heathcote
Douglas Newton, New York, acquired from the above
Joel Cooner, Dallas
James Barzyk, Chicago, acquired from the above


The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, Ritual Art of the Upper Sepik River, New Guinea, February - May 1969


Douglas Newton, Crocodile and Cassowary: Religious Art of the Upper Sepik River, New Guinea, 1971, p. 26, no. 26

Catalogue Note

Several archaic cultures of the Middle and Upper Sepik River Region of New Guinea share a common tradition of carving sacred figures which incorporate a series of opposed hooks, including the garra figures of the Bahinemo peoples, aripa figures of the Inyai-Ewa peoples and the yipwon figures of the Yimam peoples.  Regarding those found along the Korewari River, Kjellgren (2007: 58) notes: "Admired by Western artists for their radical conception of the human form, the distinctive one-legged hook figures (yipwon) of the Korewori River region caused a sensation when the first examples reached the West [...]."  During the late 1930s, the British sculptor Henry Moore became preoccupied with pointed forms, as evidenced in his preparatory drawings of the period.  Wilkinson (in Rubin 1984: 607) notes that given Moore's well-documented interest in the formal qualities of Oceanic sculpture, for his famous bronze Three Points of 1939-1940, a "[...] plausible source may be found in tribal art.  I am referring to the 'hook' figures, or Yipwons, from the Karawari region of New Guinea [...  They] could almost be mistaken for Moore's Three Points."  Moore himself wrote in 1941 about "New Guinea carvings, with drawn out spider-like extensions and bird-beak elongations [...]" (quoted after Rubin 1984: 604).  The Chilean surrealist Roberto Matta Echaurren owned several Sepik River region "hook sculptures", including the famous large-scale standingyipwon figure today in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (M.H. de Young Museum, inv. no. "2000.172.1").  

According to Meyer (1995: 266-267), all "the garra, or sacred items, of the Bahinemo are believed to have been originally created by Wimogu and Igoshua, a mythical couple who are said to still live on a small island at the mouth of the April River. [... The] use of the hook as a symbolic and decorative element in the art of New Guinea stems from an archaic source, and is probably related to the Bronze Age cultures of South-East Asia and the Indonesian Islands from whence the early migrations came.  Throughout South-East Asia, the Great Hornbill (Rhyticeros) is related to the soul, the ancestor, and the spirit world.  Its large, curved beak is often portrayed on ancestor figures and as an accesory of war and head-hunting.  In New Guinea, Keram and Ramu River sacred-flute masks show opposing hooks above and below the central face.  A mask from Mansuat village, situated between the Korewari and the Yuat, has hornbill beaks on the forehead and chin.  Sawos malu boards are decorated with carved hornbill heads, and their lower hooks may also be stylized beaks.  On the garra masks produced by the Bahinemo people, the outermost hooks are often carved as complete and instantly recognizable hornbill heads."

And Meyer (1995: 265) continues: "The Hunstein Mountains, home to the Bahinemo people, mark the south-west border of the Middle Sepik.  Bahinemo masks are interesting inasmuch as they are not meant to be worn.  Two types of masks exist, both called garra.  The first resembles the body of the yipwon found in the Korewori River area: it is formed entirely of opposing hooks on a long, thin, curved 'backbone'.  Sometimes a single rudimentary foot can be discerned as well. The second type of garra has a broader back and a large stylized face in the center of the mask, which is surrounded above and below by opposing hooks.  Garraare carried in the hands of male dancers during initiation ceremonies.  The concept of thegarra mask is related to the hook figures of the Yimam and Alamblak as well as to thearipa of the Inyai Ewa. [...] The concentric hooked garra are not true masks.  They are thought to represent an image of the cosmos with the hooks as hornbill beaks distributed around the middle element of the sun and moon.  Others interperet the hooked garra as representing a catfish."

Regarding a related Bahinemo garra figure in the JOLIKA collection of the M.H. de Young Museum,  Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Friede (2005: vol. 2, 129) notes that it was "hung when not in use from one of the interior side beams or 'placed in a row inside the upper part of the ceremonial house (Newton 1971: 19)'.  During initiation ceremonies it was held between the legs of dancers.  It is a manifestation of a water spirit and should - presumaby in the context of ritual - 'be kept immersed in swamps or other watery places' (ibid.), though the hook shapes are variously interpereted as hornbill beaks and catfish antennae.  Eyes of cassowaries and pigs and, for the central element, sun and moon, have also been mentioned as motifs (ibid., and Newton 1979: 328, fig. 22.62).  The spirits they represent are seen as 'hunting helpers, grababufa' (Kaufmann 2003: 72).  They are part of the Sepik hook-shaped figure tradition that, as some scholars have proposed, extends from the Bahinemo or even farther west on the upper Sepik through the Ewa and the Yimam of the Karawari (Korewori) to the Biwat of the Yuat River in the lower Sepik, and even farther east to the Romkun of the middle Ramu River (Haberland 1964)."