These hooked figures, called either aripa or yipwon, had once been celebrated in the haus tambaran, or men’s cult house, of the Korewari people as part of their hunting ritual, providing a supernatural way of guaranteeing a good hunt. To protect the hunters from harm, the figures were brought to the rock shelters and small caves of the hill country above their settlements in sites where the figures could connect the hunters and their families with the game they sought. There the hooked figures resided, undisturbed for decades and perhaps centuries, protected from the elements by the rocky hills. The association of these hooked figures with spirits or demons—as the Swiss anthropologist Christian Kaufmann has called them—meant that Korewari people would traditionally have left these figures undisturbed for fear that any contact with them would cause sickness or poor hunting.
Only after the arrival of white missionaries and a few government patrols, beginning in the 1950s, did Korewari men allow these precious incarnations of hunting spirits to be seen by outsiders. Missionaries pressured the people to cleanse the community of anything associated with traditional idols, and most of the carved-hook figures were destroyed at that time. Many, like this figure, were stored in caves to hide them from the missionaries. Later, after the Korewari began to convert to Christianity, they chose to cleanse their villages of these carvings, and in the 1970s allowed them to leave the community altogether, whereupon they entered the international art world. The Korewari believed that hooked figures still possessed the powers they had always had, but considered the earlier customs and ideas incompatible with their new Christian beliefs. Since the 1960s Western collectors have been captivated by the rugged appearance of these hooked figures, partly because of their unusual and appealing form and partly because of the high quality of the carvings.
From the 2019 exhibition Melanesian Art: The Sepik River and Abelam Hill Country, curated by Robert Welsch, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Franklin Pierce University
Melanesian Art: The Sepik River and Abelam Hill Country, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26-December 8, 2019.
Recent Acquisitons, Beaumont-May Gallery, Hopkins Center Art Galleries, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, June-July 1972.
Sepik Compositions: Line and Form in the Art of Papua New Guinea, Alvin P. Gutman Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, February 22, 1997-August 30, 1998.
John R. Stomberg, The Hood Now: Art and Inquiry at Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire: Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 2019, p. 107, ill. plate no. 38.
Furman Gallery, New York; John A. Friede, New York; given to present collection, 1968.
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