Gope Spirit board
Papua New Guinea
Early 20th century
Height: 50¼ in. (128 cm)
Probably acquired from Emile Deletaille, Brussels in the 1970s
Ex private collection, Brussels
Price: on request
As described in "Coaxing the Spirits to Dance" (Hood / Metropolitan Museum), in the past, the primary focus of religious and artistic life in the region was on powerful spirits (imunu). Each imunu typically was associated with a specific location in the landscape, rivers, or sea, and was linked to the specific clan within whose territory it dwelt. Papuan Gulf wood sculpture was primarily two-dimensional, consisting of board-like carvings, known as spirit boards (Gope or kopé), and figures with designs in low relief. Villages formerly had large communal men's houses divided into cubicles, each allotted to a particular clan or subclan. Every cubicle contained a clan shrine, which housed the Gope spirit boards, figures, human and animal skulls, and other sacred objects associated with the clan's various imunu.