Large Iatmul Female Figure, Middle Sepik River Region, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea,
height 55 3/4in (141.7cm)
Charles Ratton, Paris
Philip Goldman Collection, London
John and Marcia Friede Collection, New York
Most certainly stone-carved, and probably once serving as a suspension hook, the figure stands in an upright posture with her feet pointing downwards, her domed head with large circular eyes, flared nose and open grinning mouth, a solid columnar neck resting on her pulled-back shoulders behind which is an ancient open loss (possibly where a hook element was attached), her long torso with diminutive breasts and slender arms running along side the torso and resting on her hips with long contoured legs with raised kneecaps; extremely fine dark-brown patina with wear indicative of significant age.
'Iatmul suspension hooks have both utilitarian and ceremonial functions. Suspended from the rafters by a cord, they are used to safeguard food, clothing, and other items, which are placed in baskets or string bags and hung from the hook-shaped prongs at the base to keep them out of reach of vermin. Most hooks are adorned with representations of ancestral spirits and totemic animals associated with the owner's clan. In the past, some suspension hooks, especially those
representing waken, the most powerful Iatmul supernatural beings, served as sacred images through which the supernatural beings they depicted could be consulted. Before embarking on a raid or hunting expedition, men gathered within the ceremonial house to consult the waken through the hook bearing its image. Offerings of chickens, betel nut, or other items were hung from the hook and then consumed by a human "attendant," who went into a trance during which the waken spoke through him, providing advice. Primarily functional, household suspension hooks were also used to contact spirits about more minor matters.' (Metropolitan Museum of Art, WEB, nd)