An image of Urungwall (sacred figure)

Abelam people

(Papua New Guinea  – )

Urungwall (sacred figure)

Other titles:
Male ancestor figure (surmounted by two birds)
Not on display
Further information

According to Dr Fred Gerrits, who collaborated with villagers to document Abelam cultural history during the 1970s, this 'urungwall' (sacred figure) would have been used exclusively as a resonator during Tambaran cult (initiation) rituals. Kept hidden from women and uninitiated men in the 'sakindungai' (secret area) within the 'korombo' (ceremonial house), 'urungwall' were ‘sounded’ upon arrival, daily during their stay, and again at the departure of the 'ngwallndu' spirits. 'Gwangi' (long bamboo trumpets) were placed into the upper end of the 'urungwall' and blown, with the sound reverberating in the hollow cylinder. 'Urungwall' are considered to be extremely sacred. They were made by and belonged to one person, but they were also used by the whole community.

This 'urungwall' has the face of a 'waiwu' (human) with a long nose, a feature considered beautiful in Abelam society.

[entry from Exhibition Guide for 'Melanesian art: redux', 2018, cat no 23]

Place of origin
Maprik District, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea
Cultural origin
Abelam people
early 1900-mid 20th century
Ceremonial object, Sculpture
wood, clay, natural earth pigments
146.0 x 31.0 x 23.0 cm
Purchased 1965
Accession number