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

Papuan Gulf Map - Papua New Guinea

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Papuan peoples may have come up the rivers on the north side of New Guinea, crossed the central mountains along still existing trade routes, then come down the Fly River on the south side to the Gulf. They appear to have spread out from Kiwai Island, developed a major cultural center around Goaribari Island and continued east along the Papuan Gulf and the swampy delta mazes of its tributaries.

[Map of the Gulf of Papua, PNG: 33k]

Figure 1: Map of the Papuan Gulf, Papua New Guinea.

[Gope flat wood carving with geometric face, bilateral symmetry, over all curvilinear designs: 8k]

Figure 2: Gope ancestor board. Small, unnamed gopes are given to uninitiated boys. Larger, named gopes guard clan areas or skull displays. White lime pigment in the recesses accents the carved design. Similar tablets are also called kwoi and hohao. (More photos of gope boards and other carvings in Papuan Gulf Carvings.)

The Papuan tribes settled among or displaced Melanesian tribes already in the Gulf, perhaps relatively recently. Sago is the staple food supplemented with hunting, fishing and small gardens.

There was trade between groups as well as warfare. Melanesian Motu trading canoes used to sail west from the Port Moresby area every year to exchange thousands of pots for tons of sago with the Papuans of the Elema and Purari Delta areas. Angu (Kukukuku) hill tribes swept down in lightning raids.

[Kanipu mask of white tapa with round face, open beak-like mouth and hanging grass skirt. Its big circle eyes are painted red and black: 14k]

Figure 3: Kanipu mask made of bark cloth (tapa) over a basketry framework. They may represent bush spirits. These masks are worn by initiates in some areas. Kanipu also guard coconuts designated as tabu for use in ceremonies. (More photos of kanipu and other masks in Papuan Gulf Masks.)

Papuans may be related to the Iatmul on the Sepik River and to the Asmat and Marind-anim farther west along the coast. Their cultures share the concepts of:

Ancestors are important, but not necessarily revered. The important quality is called imunu, the power that pervades things, including ritual objects. Imunu is personified in the masked ceremonies. Most representations are of humans/ancestors, not plants or animals. Traditional cultural ceremonies on a large scale existed into the 1950s, but declined as Christian missionaries converted the villages.

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Links in this site:

Books used to research this series, especially Art Styles of the Papuan Gulf, by Douglas Newton.

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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 - Angu (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