KEREWA SKULL RACK (AGIBA)
Kikori River Delta, Gulf of Papua, Gulf Province, Papua New Guinea
Height: 35 ⅜ in (89.8 cm)
Harry A. Franklin, Beverly Hills, acquired by 1964
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. 36, fig. 66
George R. Ellis, Oceanic Art: A Celebration of Form, San Diego, 2009, p. 41, cat. no. 20
Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Arts of New Guinea, September 24 – November 1, 1964; additional venues: Barnsdall Park Municipal Art Gallery, Los Angeles, January 5 - 31, 1965; Portland Art Museum, February 25 - March
According to Haddon, agiba, or skull racks, were carved "by a man when he takes a head, but other men add skulls from time to time; the skulls are those of enemies only" (Haddon, "The Agiba Cult of the Kerewa Culture", Man, No. 18, December 1918, p. 178). In most parts of the Papuan Gulf, these anthropomorphic boards represented spirits and were often displayed in men's ceremonial houses, or longhouses. In the Goaribari region, skull racks (particularly those containing the most powerful spirits) were often wrapped up and concealed in the rafters of the longhouses (Welsch, Webb, and Haraha, Coaxing the Spirits to Dance: Art and Society in the Papuan Gulf of New Guinea, Hanover, 2006, p. 40).
This spirit board displays a stylized openwork body and flared shoulders. Its head is spade-shaped and its eyes, nose and mouth appear to be a reduced form of the more elaborate facial designs found on other Papuan spirit boards. The alternating vibrant pigments on this piece compliment its carved designs, emphasizing the movement evoked by the zig-zagging patterns on its body.