Figure de craie ancestrale

Limestone Ancestral Figure

Recent field research [1] indicates that the carved stone figure traditions of central New Ireland are
more complex than was previously understood. People living in this region today told us that these
small chalk figures were made at Punam and used by a number of different peoples living in the northern part of southern New Ireland. The name
that Westerners today use to refer to these figures,
kulap, is now found only at Punam and at Muliama
on the east coast. [2] In other Patpatar-speaking villages
these figures are known as kutpuo or
papawa. [3]

The earliest information that we know regarding
these chalk figures was recorded by the Rev. George
Brown when he visited the Hinsal-speaking region
in the west coast Patpatar area of southern New
Ireland:

“At this place [Kalil village] I was taken by the Chief
to an enclosure near the village of an oblong shape
the gate of which was carefully closed. On entering
we found ourselves in a small piece of land about
an acre in size surrounded by a live fence and kept
well tended. At one end of the enclosure there was
a large house containing two large chalk images
one of them the male being considerably larger
than the other one. They were gaudily painted and
so were the posts of the house. I cannot as yet say
what use they made of them. I do not think that
they are objects of worship or idols in the strict
sense of the term and yet they evidently regard
them with some superstitious regard as they dance
to them and strictly forbid all women and children
to go near the place where they are kept. The
natives here have also smaller images made of
chalk which they keep in their houses. Most of
these figures are representations of a man or
woman generally in a sitting posture.” [4]

Although Wilfred Powell featured an illustration of
a ‘mortuary chapel’ that contained nine medium
and four small chalk figures, [5] according to Otto
Finsch it is probable that Powell never actually saw
such stone figures in their actual context. [6]

[1Gunn and Peltier (eds) 2006, pp. 122–33.

[2Parkinson 1907: p. 654 refers to the chalk figures as kulab.
Krämer 1916, p. 272 calls them kulap.

[3In 2001 in Kabanut village, Hinsal-speaking region, west coast
Patpatar area, we recorded kutpuo as a generic name for portraits
carved in stone or in wood. These figures were known as
papawa in Saraha village, west coast Patpatar-speaking area.
The language used in Punam village is a dialect of Patpatar.

[4Rev. George Brown’s journal of 28 October 1875. Vicky
Barnecutt, pers. comm., 2004.

[5Powell 1883: frontispiece.

[6Otto Finsch (1893, p. 62) notes that Rev. George Brown was
probably the only white man who saw these figures at the location
where they were used, and dismisses Powell’s illustration
and description (Powell 1883, pp. 248–49) as ‘pure invention’
based upon rumours and legends. However, Finsch noted that
mission teachers brought a number of these stone ‘gods’ over to
Mioko (on the Duke of York Islands) in order to sell them to him.