Coastal Sepik Headrest 

Papua New Guinea

19th century

It's always a greet feeling to discover a piece from a known hand. Even more when the reference piece has a very early date and place of collection. Such is the case for this great lower Sepik headrest which "brother" was collected in 1910 in Murik and is now in the collection of the Ethnographic museum of Berlin (Published in KVS, n°278 - see last images).

I am then very confortable placing the making and use of our headrest in the late 19th century.

 

Having studied lower Sepik headrests (see in particular the entry note for the Christie's Ratton-Meunier headrest in the "news" section of my website) I formally attribute this piece to an area going from the mouth of the Sepik river, towards the Murik lakes and a bit further on the north coast.

The four figures represented are looking in all four directions, so as to protect the head of the owner - the most sacred part of the body - when resting. The mythical figures are very probably half-human, half bats - similarly to the bats amulets attached to the masts of the sea-going Murik canoes. Fruit-eating Bats are powerful symbols of abundance in the Lower Sepik.  

Initially covered in red ochre, a symbol of power and sexual attraction in the lower Sepik, the patina is now dark brown and dry. Note the noses are pierced and some still have remains of rope into them.  

 

The venerable piece comes from a private collection in Sweden and sits on a custom patinated oak base by Romain Laforêt.

H: 16 cm (6 1/3 inches)

Price: 1600 Euros enquiry