This Biwat male ancestor spirit figure represents how spirits of Papua New Guinea communicate

Stephen Nartey October 19, 2022
Image credit: Sotheby's

Its arms freely hang from its body with a tall oval head carved with an imposing expression. That’s the imagery that represents the Biwat male ancestor spirit figure of Papua New Guinea. That is not the only feature that distinguishes the sacred carvings. It has ears pierced twice as well as its nostril.

Its eyes are pearl colored but have more piercings at the back of the head. It has pointed features in how its neck, ankles and wrists are shaped, as reported by Bonhams.

The Biwat male ancestor spirit figure is one of the revered male spirit figures among the Papua New Guineans. It has in its possession the sacred flutes of the Biwat people who reside on the shores of the middle of Yaut River in Papua New Guinea.

It is believed the ancestors of Papua New Guinea communicated to men through flutes, making the Biwat male ancestor spirit figure a totem of one of the clans of the region, according to Art Daily.

Among the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea, flutes are not only musical instruments but a respected object in their customs and belief systems. The flute is carved from bamboo and its sounds are generated by blowing air through the carved openings at its end.

The Biwat people are known for making the finest flute in Papua New Guinea. The flutes are decorated with ornaments and styled with traits of humans to showcase their physical attributes. There are flutes that the Biwat people associate with crocodile spirits and are mostly designed distinctively to make them stand out, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

They are known as the Ashin flutes and are widely used during initiation rites in Papua New Guinea. It is believed that for a teenager to ascend to adulthood, they must crawl into the mouth of a large crocodile and must bear the scars of the reptile’s teeth.

It is commonplace to spot tribal markings or sharp cuts on the skin of young adults which were developed as a result of passing through the initiation rites. The Biwat spirit figure is worn as a mask in some rituals in the Papua New Guinea region. The mask is perceived as a shield separating the spiritual from the physical world.

The Alamblak in the eastern Sepik Hills are noted for carving one of the most remarkable Biwat masks. In their culture, it stands for patron spirits of hunting and war. Their carving is slightly different in the looks of its hook. It has a human face in some sections and depicts an ancestral look in parts. In some clans, the masks are kept in ceremonial structures and are worn as personal amulets.

One carving which was dug out by archaeologists from the burial rock shelters of the Ewa is carved in panels and scrolls instead of the traditional features of the Biwat spirit figures.

Other sculptures of the spirit figures have been seen in feminine features with raised arms and hands. In 2010, the national news portal reported the Biwat male ancestor figure of the East Sepik Province was selling at $1.5 million.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 19, 2022


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