Hohau Ancestral board
Papua New Guinea
Gulf of Papua New Guinea
See full details
The highly stylised ancestral board was usually carved from various hardwood species. Black from charcoal, red from clay and white from clay or powdered lime colour the recessed areas, accentuating the raised linear detail. However, most boards collected during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as E221, began as dugout canoes.
The most obvious feature of the hohao, is the face staring out at the viewer. Nearly all boards in the Papuan Gulf share a common feature: a black skullcap that dips down at the temple between the eyes as a widow’s peak. Village elders across the Gulf identify this part of the image as the forehead of men who, during colonial times, shaved the hair above the forehead. On most boards the nose then emerges from the centre of this blackened forehead, sometimes protruding above the flat plane of the board.
A second key feature of the hohao is its highly stylised body with emphasized symmetry around the vertical axis. Regardless of design, they generally depict the structure of a imunu’s body according to the carver. However, the most important feature of the hohao is the navel, a design element that animates the figure as well as the board itself.
In many boards the torso as a whole is apparently unimportant, because it is reduced to only a navel inside some simple decorative element. Seen as a commodity in recent years, these boards typically lack a navel, as carvers have no desire for spirits to inhabit them.