Hook Figure, Bahinemo, Nigiru Village, Hunstein Mountains, Sepik Region, Papua New Guinea
- Height: 50 1/4 in (127.5 cm)
Douglas Newton, New York, acquired from the above
Joel Cooner, Dallas
James Barzyk, Chicago, acquired from the above
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)."