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Bat Sculpture a Malanga New Ireland artifact

posted 18 Mar 2018, 15:08 by Jamie Derkenne
The provenance of a sculpture I bought at auction for $50 in 2017 in Sydney has been found. The sculpture features a squatting figure with well delineated hands surmounted by a stylized bat, and incorporates painted wood (orange, dusty red, white, black) and plant fibre. This is stylistically identical to objects found at the Australian Museum from New Ireland, to the North East of mainland Papua New Guinea.
The object is likely to be a malangan carving. Malangan is a cycle of rituals particular to New Ireland. Malangan express many complex religious and philosophical ideas. They are principally concerned with honoring 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. 
Malanggan masks and other objects are commonly used at funeral rites, which both bid farewell to the dead and celebrate the vibrancy of the living. The masks can represent a number of things: dead 
ancestors, ges (the spiritual double of an individual), or the various bush spirits associated with the area. 
The ownership of Malangan objects is similar to the modern notion of copyright; when a piece is bought, the seller surrenders the right to use that particular Malangan style, the form in which it is made, and even the accompanying rites. This stimulates production, as more elaborate variations are made to replace the ones that have been sold.
Malangan ceremonies became extremely expensive affairs, taking into account the costs of the accompanying feasting. As a result, the funeral rites could take place months after a person had died. In some circumstances the ceremony would have been held for several people simultaneously.

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