Production date
Papua New Guinea
East Sepik
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Object Detail

Handmade pottery bowl - KWAM. Fired clay, subglobular shape, uneven rim, incised design around rim. Bowl is painted red, white, black, yellow.
CH classification INDIGENOUS CULTURES Melanesian & South Sea Islander pottery
Production place
H.105 x Dia.171 mm
Media/Materials description
Fired clay with pigment.
History and use
This bowl is made traditionally in northern Wosera by women using the spiral coil technique; with carving and painting applied by men, the ceremonial vessel known as the kwam, was used during ‘tambaran’ initiation, feasts and social ceremonies. In particular, young men drank only the white soup made from coconut, taro and yams, served in the kwam, which were kept in the ‘haus tambaran’ during their initiation periods.

Individual bowls have the same shape but vary in size; the diameter of the mouth always measures less than the height. Men decorate the vessels in the leather-hard stage, using either a bamboo implement or flying fox bone to incise designs which cover the entire visible surface of the pot. The rim is defined by a formal border consisting of a smoothed coil followed by a longitudinal zig-zag line, offset by one of more longitudinal running bands. The fundamental part of the design generally consists of figurative elements in a bifold or quatrefold arrangement.

Kwam are always painted in red, black, yellow and white with the frayed end of a strong plant fibre. With the exception of commercial paints; black traditionally comes from charcoal, white from river stones, yellow from clay and red from various sources such as seeds, rivers stones and burned stems.

Now made for commercial sale, the strict sanctions and honour related to the kwam no longer apply, but taboos concerning manufacture are respected and men still decorate and paint the vessels.
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