Robert Lang, Rye (inv. no. 19878)
Kevin Conru, Brussels
Anthony Meyer, Paris
American Private Collection, acquired from the above in 2001
This ancestor figure is of the type known as kulap
, distinctive to southern New Ireland. It is thought they were made by specialist carvers who lived near the chalk limestone quarries of the Rossel Mountains. Kulap
were made to represent the recently deceased. When someone died a male relative would travel to the mountains to acquire a kulap
, which could be male or female, depending on the sex of the deceased. Upon his return to the village the figure was placed in a shrine in a ceremonial building alongside other kulap
; the form of the shrine is illustrated in Finsch, Ethnologische Erfahrungen und Belegstücke aus der Südsee
, Vienna, 1893, p. 144 .
The kulap served as a temporary dwelling for the spirits of the deceased with might otherwise wander causing harm to the living. Only men were permitted to view the kulap, which after a period of time were destroyed; almost all old kulap such as the present example were collected during the colonial period between 1870-1890.