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Bruce Frank Primitive Art
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Male Ancestral Spirit Figure, Nggwalndu

Central Abelam area, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea
19th-early 20th century

Provenance: Alan Stone collection, New York

The Abelam people of the Prince Alexander Mountains practice perhaps the longest and most spectacular initiation cycle of any New Guinea people. Beginning in childhood, each Abelam male must pass through eight separate initiation rites over the course of twenty to thirty years, before he is a fully initiated man.  This process continues until the final rites, in which the initiate is shown the largest and most sacred of all displays—the brilliantly painted figures and other images portraying the powerful clan spirits called nggwalndu. The largest nggwalndu images are used during this final ritual. Although nggwalndu figures are impressive works of sculpture, to the Abelam, their efficacy lies in the bright polychrome paints applied to their surfaces. For the Abelam, paint is a magical substance that endows the figures with supernatural power and beauty.

Male Ancestral Spirit Figure, Nggwalndu

Central Abelam area, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea
19th-early 20th century

Provenance: Alan Stone collection, New York

The Abelam people of the Prince Alexander Mountains practice perhaps the longest and most spectacular initiation cycle of any New Guinea people. Beginning in childhood, each Abelam male must pass through eight separate initiation rites over the course of twenty to thirty years, before he is a fully initiated man.  This process continues until the final rites, in which the initiate is shown the largest and most sacred of all displays—the brilliantly painted figures and other images portraying the powerful clan spirits called nggwalndu. The largest nggwalndu images are used during this final ritual. Although nggwalndu figures are impressive works of sculpture, to the Abelam, their efficacy lies in the bright polychrome paints applied to their surfaces. For the Abelam, paint is a magical substance that endows the figures with supernatural power and beauty.

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