One of the many works collected in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s by Sir William Dargie for the National Gallery of Australia, this imposing fragment of a founding ancestor has the personal name of Mogulapan. The figure would have been tied to the central post of many spirit houses (Haus tambaran) over generations. The spirit house was the focal point of all religious and social affairs of the community.
One spirit house in which Mogulapan stood during the early twentieth century was destroyed by fire and areas of scorched damage can still be seen. The role of the spirit Mogulapan was to be responsible for the wellbeing of the community, and he was ritually consulted as an oracle during times of hardship, such as disaster, disease or warfare.
The stomach and chest patterns show the incised keloid scarring that young men receive during initiation. Strong black designs on the cheeks echo the painted faces of men during ceremonial events connected to warfare and the ancestors. The elliptical-shaped eyes may represent those of a crocodile, a respected inhabitant of the river, connected to many aspects of Sepik river art.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008