Oceania

Overmodeled
ancestor skull

Vanuatu (New Hebrides)

Bone, spider web, vegetable fiber, cloth, paint

First part of the 20th century
Height: 9 ¾ in. (25 cm)
Length: 9 ½ in. (24 cm)

Ex private collection, Netherlands
Ex Cornette de Saint-Cyr auction, Drouot,
Paris, June 2001, lot 104
Ex private collection, Paris

Price: on request

Melanesia – Eastern Papua New Guinea
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Ancestor skulls were revered in Melanesia. In Vanuatu, the worship of ancestors notably included the use and display of overmodelled skulls. The latter could be part of a rambaramp figure. The rambaramp is a funerary effigy of a high-ranking Vanuatu person. The effigy displayed the signs of the rank and initiation grades of the deceased. It appeared publicly during the funeral rituals, after which the skulls of high-ranking ancestors were preserved and placed in the roof of the men's house.

This cranial deformation shown here was common in Vanuatu. It was a matter of custom and aesthetics. When children were born, the skull was held firmly in place with wooden sticks and strips that compressed and stretched the skull as it grew.