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Oceanic Art (Pacific Islands)

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Orator's Chair

44 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 20 in. (113 x 47 x 50.8 cm)

Iatmul artist
Papua New Guinea

Iatmul; made in Suapmeri Village, Middle Sepik River Region, Papua New Guinea

Object Type: Sculpture
Medium and Support: Carved and painted wood, shell
Credit Line: Marion Stratton Gould Fund
Accession Number: 1974.71
Link to this object
Location: Not currently on view

Orator's stools were not actually designed to be sat upon. Rather, they held a central place within the Men's House, serving as a lectern during debates. Taking turns, members of a clan would attempt to upstage each other with their eloquence, theatrics and knowledge of genealogical lineages. A speaker would stand or sit next to the stool, carrying a bundle of leaves. At key points in his speak, he would place a leaf on the stool or strike the stool with the bundle to invoke the ancestor represented on the stool.

This particular example is from the village of Suapmeri, of the Iatmul peoples in the Middle Sepik River Region of New Guinea. Typical of the area are the four black circles on the whitened face, the treatment of the eyes, and the catfish headdress, and the squat muscular figure with its scars. Around the periphery of the face runs a fiber band for the attachment of fern leaves. On either side of the central figure, which is male, are two small female figures in bridal veils.

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