Mermaid sculpture

Production date
Pre 1990
Papua New Guinea
East Sepik
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Object detail

Carved wood sculpture depicting a "mermaid" figure; cowrie shells as eyes, geometric carvings on body and tail, painted decorations in black and yellow. Figure wears cowrie shell earrings and necklace.
CH classification INDIGENOUS CULTURES Melanesian & South Sea Islander sculpture
Production date
Pre 1990
L 400 x W 86 mm
History and use
This sculpture embodies the mythical ‘Ri’ or ‘Ilkai’ from Papua New Guinean culture, the humanoid sea creature said to resemble the Western ‘mermaid’. Whilst the mermaid-like creature sighted in Papua New Guinea has been scientifically proven to be the Indo-Pacific dugong, ‘Dugong dugon’, many locals still believe in the existence of the half human, half fish creature.

This object was collected by donor Peter Watt in 1990 and donated to the Museum of Tropical Queensland in 2012.
You can read more about this object and the mythology surrounding it in the following article, from the Museum of Tropical Queensland’s Connecting with Collections blog series:
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