Intersections

Kastom, Art, Spirits, and Knowledge in Papua New Guinea

In Tok Pisin, the national language of Papua New Guinea, the word kastom (derived from the English custom) coveys the full body of traditional practices and understandings inherited from the ancestors. Those who follow kastom are alert to a natural world of spirits that surrounds their communities and influences their daily lives.

Much of the art of Papua New Guinea relates to this spirit world. Since kastom is unwritten, works of art form an important means of recalling and transmitting knowledge about spirits and their place in ritual. Among the examples on view are paintings that depict stories of spirits, masks that people wear during ceremonies to impersonate spirits, and even instruments that make the sounds of the spirit beings.

The oldest works shown here were made with stone tools at a time before modernization began to impact communities in New Guinea and kastom had no rival. More recent items were made by artists who were fully aware of the growing international markets for their arts.

  • X63.642 Ceremonial house painting

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    Object Name: Ceremonial house painting

    Artist: Unknown

    Culture: Iatmul peoples

    Place of Origin: Tambanum village, Middle Sepik River, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea

    Date/Era: Early or mid-20th century

    Medium/Materials: Sago palm (Metroxylon sagu) spathe, pigment, wood, bamboo, plant fiber

    Dimensions: L: 243 cm

    Credit Line: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. George Kennedy.

    Accession Number: X63.642

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  • X64.599 Ngwaalndu figure, clan ancestor spirit

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    Object Name: Ngwaalndu figure, clan ancestor spirit

    Artist: Unknown

    Culture: Abelam peoples

    Place of Origin: Maprik district, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea

    Date/Era: Mid- to late 19th century

    Medium/Materials:

    Dimensions: H: 165 cm

    Credit Line: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. George Kennedy.

    Accession Number: X64.599

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  • X64.686 Mask (bapa tagwa or bapa kumbu)

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    Object Name: Mask (bapa tagwa or bapa kumbu)

    Artist: Unknown

    Culture: Abelam peoples

    Place of Origin: Maprik district, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea

    Date/Era: Mid-20th century

    Dimensions: H: 40.6 cm

    Medium/Materials: Plant fiber, pigment, feathers

    Credit Line: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. George Kennedy.

    Accession Number: X64.686

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  • X64.715 Female figure

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    Object Name: Female figure

    Artist: Unknown

    Place of Origin: Murik Lakes, Coastal Sepik region, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea

    Date/Era: 19th century or earlier

    Medium/Materials: Wood

    Dimensions: H: 70 cm

    Credit Line: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. George Kennedy.

    Accession Number: X64.715

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  • X64.843 Yam-harvest ritual figure (yina)

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    Object Name: Yam-harvest ritual figure (yina)

    Artist: Unknown

    Culture: Kwoma peoples

    Place of Origin: Ambunti Mountains, Middle Sepik River, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea

    Date/Era: Circa 1920s

    Medium/Materials: Wood, pigment

    Dimensions: H: 116 cm

    Credit Line: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Hursley.

    Accession Number: X64.843

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  • X65.4326 Shield

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    Object Name: Shield

    Artist: Unknown

    Culture: Iatmul peoples

    Place of Origin: Middle Sepik River, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea

    Date/Era: Late 19th century or earlier

    Medium/Materials: Wood, pigment

    Dimensions: H: 158 cm

    Credit Line: Fowler Museum at UCLA.

    Accession Number: X65.4326

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  • X89.705 Sago storage jar (au)

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    Object Name: Sago storage jar (au)

    Artist: Unknown

    Cultural Group: Iatmul peoples

    Place of Origin: Aibom, Chambri Lakes, Middle Sepik River, Papua New Guinea

    Dimensions: H: 56.00 cm, DIAM: 54.00 cm

    Materials Used: Unglazed earthenware, pigment

    Credit Line and Accession Number: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wallace M. Ruff Trust. X89.705

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  • X96.8.43 Mask

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    Object Name: Mask

    Artist: Unknown

    Place of Origin: Lower or Coastal Sepik region, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea

    Date/Era: 19th century or earlier

    Dimensions: H: 48 cm

    Medium/Materials: Wood, paint

    Credit Line: Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Franklin D. and Judith H. Murphy.

    Accession Number: X96.8.43

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