FIGURE (BIOMA OR AGIBA)
Era River, Gulf of Papua, Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea
Height: 20 in (50.8 cm)
Harry A. Franklin, Beverly Hills, acquired by the 1960s
Robert L. Welsch, Virginia-Lee Webb, and Sebastian Haraha, Coaxing the Spirits to Dance: Art and Society in the Papuan Gulf of New Guinea, Hanover, 2006, p. 34, fig. 56
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, Coaxing the Spirits to Dance: Art and Society in the Papuan Gulf of New Guinea, April 1 - September 17, 2006
Two-dimensional figures such as this one, called bioma, were kept in shrines next to oval-shaped spirit boards. Spirits would regularly "animate" these figures and look over the well-being of the owner and his relatives. Bioma were placed on top of crocodile and pig skulls, which served as sustenance to both the figure and the spirit that inhabited it (Webb, Embodied Spirits: Gope Boards from the Papuan Gulf, Milan, 2015, p. 234).
As its pointed feet, curved arms and animated facial expression suggest, this figure represents a spirit that has been "coaxed to dance" (ibid., p. 236). The design on this figure's body represents an abstract rib cage, outlining the structure of the spirit's body (Welsch, Webb, and Haraha, Coaxing the Spirits to Dance: Art and Society in the Papuan Gulf of New Guinea, Hanover, 2006, p. 20). The vibrant pigments used to decorate this bioma also seem to highlight the skeletal structure of the figure. While we understand the symbolism of many of the decorative elements present on these figures, it is likely that there are many symbolic associations that are now lost to us (ibid., p. 22).