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Art-Pacific (Carolyn Leigh - Ron Perry): Guide to Artifacts

Dollies and Dreams, small fiber figures from the Sepik River basin, ESP, PNG

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[Bird: 12k]

Two kinds of small fiber figures are made in some of the villages in the Sepik River Basin. The women often work on them while they sit chatting in the shade with their friends.

Figure 1: Basket weave cane bird with clay pigment paint and cassowary feather top knot, Mumeri Village, Blackwater Rv.

Figure 2: Basket weave pig with cassowary feathers

[Pig: 23k]

The "instructional dollies" (doli in pisin) are used to tell clan (tumbuna) stories. Sometimes they are asked to answer questions or solve problems, just as people may ask a favor of a Catholic saint. Like the saints, a certain doli may be seen as the right one to go to for a particular question or problem.

They are offered food, chants or maybe special songs played on pairs of sacred flutes. Only certain men can play the flutes and they may only play songs that they have a right to, so a villager may have to wait until the right musicians are in the village for the necessary song.

Figure 3: Knotted bilum string doli

[Doli: 8k]

Bird and animal figures are dream vehicles or spirit catchers to help their owner move around. For example, if a man was going to fly by airplane to the capital, Port Moresby, he would want a bird. The word for airplane in pisin is the same as the word for bird: balus. Pigs, a very common motif, represent wild pigs. They are very strong and can thrash their way through the thickest bush, so if someone had to make a journey through the jungle, he might want a pig. Other figures include crocodiles and fish for going by water.

Figure 4: Sawfish (sigak in Iatmul) using knotted bilum string

[Fish: 10k]

There are two different techniques used by the women to make both kinds of figures. Basketry forms use woven split cane, like the little bird which is from Mumeri Village on the Korosameri River, or sometimes a fine plaited matting is shaped over the cane framework. The other way is a knotting technique using handmade string from the inner bark of various trees. This bilum string is worked around a cane framework or a gourd to make the basic shape. Many of the dollies, like the two shown here from Kamindimbit Village on the Sepik River, are made this way.

Figure 5: Oppossum/cuscus (mabma in Iatmul, kapul in Tok Pisin) using knotted bilum string

[Cuscus: 12k]

[Doli: 12k]

Figure 6: Doli formed around a gourd base, Kamindimbit Village, Sepik Rv.

String figures may have colored stripes and other patterns knotted in as they are made. The bilum string is dyed with natural or trade store dyes, but occasionally bright colored knitting yarn is used. Basketry figures are painted. A stiff paint is made from clay, charcoal or lime. Yellows are usually clay; the red is burnt clay. White comes from burnt, powdered shells or white lime from the cliffs. More decoration (bilas) is added: colored raffia tassels, shells for eyes and sometimes for jewelry on the dolis, long, black cassowary feathers or chicken feathers, anything to make them look smat or good.

Figure 7: Two string piglets

[Two string pigs: 17k]

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Melanesian art TOC | Map of art areas of Melanesia
Papua New Guinea: Highlands: body art - Bundi tapa - jewelry/dancers | Karawari and Blackwater Rivers: masks - carvings - map | Massim: artifacts- Trobriand Kula - map | Kula canoe | New Britain: Baining - Sulka - Tolai dukduk | New Ireland: Malagan | Ramu River: masks - carvings - map | Sepik River: masks - carvings - villages - map | Papuan Gulf: masks - carvings - map - Gogodala - Kukukuku
other areas: Asmat | Solomon Islands: crafts - jewelry - map
art and craft:
barkcloth (tapa) | body art | cane and fiber figures | canoes and prows | jewelry/dancers | masks - Middle Sepik | phallocrypts | pottery - Chambri | shields | story boards | suspension hooks | weapons | yam masks - fiber | yam masks - wood

Indonesian art TOC | Dyak baby carriers and masks | furniture | Java folk art | Lombok baskets | Lombok lontar boxes | masks from Bali and Java | puppets

China: Bai textiles/art TOC | baby carriers | baby hats | woodblock prints

Collecting New Guinea art in the field since 1964.

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Artifacts on this site were collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. Background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. by Carolyn Leigh is licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-ND 4.0