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Figure for a Sacred Flute (Wusear)

Biwat men and women were described by Margaret Mead as assertive, violent, individualistic, and volatile—characteristics that seem to be corroborated by this figure’s intense gaze, bristling feathers, and rigid bearing. Carved to be placed in the end of a sacred flute, this figure is characteristic of Biwat figural style, which depicts idealized aspects of the male form. The added ornamentation—the tusk through the septum, the shell and fiber earrings, the feathers on the head, and the face painting—is realistic, showing how traditionally a man might decorate himself. That these elements, as well as the human hair attached to the head, chin, and genital area, have survived is notable: added materials on many other figures are missing.

Biwat peoples, Papua New Guinea
Figure for a Sacred Flute (Wusear)
1900–1920
Wood, shell, boar tusk, human hair, cassowary feathers, fiber, pigment
H. 20 ½ in. (52.7 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 75.53