An image of Korvar (ancestor figure holding a shield)

Unknown Artist

Korvar (ancestor figure holding a shield)

Not on display
Further information

Korvar ancestor figures produced in Cendrawasih Bay like this one would have been used to summon and temporarily house the spirit of ancestor who may be called upon to adjudicate a matter or to ensure success in a certain venture. Korvar are made following a person's death and the deceased person's soul or spirit is believed to dwell in the carved wooden figure. The process is accompanied by specific rituals, after which the family of the deceased wraps the sculpture in cloth and store it in the family house. The figure is brought out before important undertakings, such as a battle or extended fishing trips. The priest taps the korvar on the ground to bring the ancestor spirit into the image, explains the plans to the spirit and inquires about the outcome. The korvar is then re-stored after this ceremony. After a number of new korvars are made, family members take the older examples to the cemetery and place each with the skeleton of the person for whom it was carved.

Whilst this figure holds a shield others sometimes hold the skull of the deceased which is believed to accommodate the spirit and sometimes a snake is present to represent powers of rejuvenation. On the Tanibar Islands in south Moluccas similar ancestor statues exist that are formally comparable with the korvar made by Biak people of New Guinea. Like the korvar these figures known as Iene are depicted squatting with their arms resting upon their bent knees-sometimes they hold a carved shield or emblem and can appear with a single earring pendant in either ear.

Asian Art Department, AGNSW, April 2015

Place of origin
West Papua Region, Indonesia
Cultural origin
Geelvink Bay
19th century
Sculpture, Ceremonial object
26.5 cm
Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010
Accession number