Malangan figure

From the north coast of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, AD 1882-83

This figure was made for malangan, a cycle of rituals of the people of the north coast of New Ireland, an island in Papua New Guinea. Malangan express many complex religious and philosophical ideas. They are principally concerned with honouring and dismissing the dead, but they also act as affirmation of the identity of clan groups, and negotiate the transmission of rights to land. Malangan sculptures were made to be used on a single occasion and then destroyed. They are symbolic of many important subjects, including identity, kinship, gender, death, and the spirit world. They often include representations of fish and birds of identifiable species, alluding both to specific myths and the animal's natural characteristics. For example, at the base of this figure is depicted a rock cod, a species which as it grows older changes gender from male to female. The rock cod features in an important myth of the founding of the first social group, or clan, in this area; thus the figure also alludes to the identity of that clan group.

This figure was collected was collected by Hugh Hastings Romilly, Deputy Commissioner for the Western Pacific while he was on a tour of New Ireland in 1882-83. It was one a group of carvings made to be displayed at a particular malangan ritual. It is made of wood, vegetable fibre, pigment and shell (turbo petholatus opercula). They were originally standing in a carved canoe, which unfortunately Romilly did not collect. The whole group was presented to the British Museum by the Duke of Bedford in 1884, after Romilly had sent it to him.

Find in the collection online

More information


L. Lincoln, Assemblage of spirits: idea -1 (George Braziller, New York, in association with The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1987)


Height: 122.000 cm

Museum number

AOA Ethno 1884.7-28.49


Collected by H.H. Romilly (1883)
Gift of the Duke of Bedford


Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore