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Skull Rack (Agiba)

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 typical 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.

Kerewa peoples, Papua New Guinea
Skull Rack (Agiba)
Late 19th or early 20th century
Wood, pigment
H. 33 ¾ in. (85.7 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 80.72.1