Male ancestor figure named Malabi

CULTURE:
Sawos people
DATE:
c. 1890–1910
more object details

General Description

Researchers traced this sculpture to the village of Yamok, north of the Sepik River, where Sawos men carved larger-than-life figures. Each figure represented a male ancestor, probably more mythological than real, and each had a name. This figure was traced to a specific longhouse and his name, Malabi, was restored. Several motifs on Malabi's body probably represent scarification. Crescents appear on the breast area and a serpentine form on the torso. Concentric diamonds surround the navel, and parallel zigzag elements appear on his back and left thigh. The crocodile on Malabi's right thigh may signify a clan totem, while the masklike faces on his hands and feet represent bush or tree spirits (winjembu) associated with the hunting of wild pigs, which the Sawos considered a legitimate substitute for a human victim of the head-hunt. Ritual scarification was part of a young man's initiation into the secret and exclusively male world of the ceremonial house. The sculpture, reportedly carved in an effort to make the swampy land firm for the founding of a village, was kept in the interior space of a men's ceremonial house.

Adapted from

  • Carol Robbins, 'Male ancestor figure named Malabi,' in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997), 72.
  • 'Male ancestor figure named Malabi,' in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Bonnie Pitman (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2012), 125.