Indiana University Indiana University IU

Culture Kerewa
Title Skull Rack (Agibe)
Date Late 19th–early 20th century
Medium Wood and pigment
Dimensions Object: 33 3/4 × 11 7/8 × 1/2 in. (85.7 × 30.2 × 1.3 cm)
Overall: 33 3/4 × 11 7/8 × 1/2 in. (85.7 × 30.2 × 1.3 cm)
Credit Line Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University
Accession Number 80.72.1

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About this Work

Like other peoples of the Papuan Gulf, traditional Kerewa spiritual practices involved the display of the skulls of enemies as a way of honoring spirits believed responsible for maintaining the prosperity of a community. Until the early twentieth century, skulls were displayed in a communal men’s house, where each clan had both a sleeping area for its members as well as a clan shrine. At least one agiba formed each shrine’s focus; skulls, mostly of enemies, but also possibly those of some important ancestors, were hung by rattan loops to the hook-like projections that rise from the bottom of the rack.

This example is characteristic in form, consisting of an anthropomorphic figure with a large head and arms that surround a small body, with the hooks between them. As is typical of the art of the Papuan Gulf, color and patterning dominate the surface, rather than three-dimensional sculptural effects.

Provenance research is ongoing for this and many other items in the Eskenazi Museum of Art permanent collection. For more information about the provenance of this artwork, please contact the department curator with specific questions.

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"Skull Rack | Collections Online." Collections Online. Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University, 2024.