In 1987, sociocultural anthropology graduate student Phillip Guddemi acquired more than 130 paintings in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea. Most come from a collapsed structure, and others were commissioned from local artists. These paintings, each about 40–45 inches on their long axis, are made on the spathe, the outer covering of the sago palm. Initiated men of the Sawiyanö ethnic group create the paintings. When Guddemi conducted his research, this linguistic group consisted of about 425 people. Men paint the spathes to adorn the ceilings of the ritual houses they build for the initiation ceremonies of boys and young men. Initiation houses are used for only one ceremonial cycle and then are allowed to deteriorate; new paintings must be made when new houses are required. The painted images depict the origin stories and sacred myths of the Sawiyanö. This painting is of iwonu and represents a meander in a river or stream.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.