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Oceanic Art (Pacific Islands)

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Spirit Figure (Mindja)

41 3/4 x 9 13/16 x 4 5/16 in. (106 x 25 x 11 cm)

Waresi artist
Papua New Guinea

Waresi; made in Upper Sepik River Region, Papua New Guinea

Object Type: Sculpture
Medium and Support: Wood, paint
Credit Line: Marion Stratton Gould Fund
Accession Number: 1974.76
Location: Currently on view
Link to this object

The cultivation of yams was central to the lives of the Waresi people; they served as both a ceremonial and staple food. The spirits responsible for their growth (and by extension for the welfare of the community) needed to be properly honored upon the harvest. During the mindja-ma ceremony a basket containing yams was adorned with two of these figures. Mindja were considered to be powerful male water spirits who lived, and were sometimes visible, just below the surface in lakes. This powerful otherworldly being embodies the qualities of humans, plants and animals. The simplified eyes, nose and mouth are based on the human face. The painted diamond shapes symbolize banana leaves, and the projecting triangles that run down the bottom half of the figure represent an undulating snake.
[Gallery label text, 2009]

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