Peter McCabe will be presenting a lecture on:
The Moon, the Stars and the Demon Shrimp: Deciphering Patterns in Beaded Aprons of Geelvink Bay, North West New Guinea
A little extra : After the lecture, there will be a very short introduction to our newest OAS international members, Shiva Lynn Burgos and her partner Dominic Palfreyman – and their artistic and filming ventures in the Upper Sepik Kwoma Village of Marawai – with a little show and tell. www.shivalynn.com
Cenderawasih Bay (better known to Oceanic art collectors by its old name of Geelvink Bay) is famous for its Korwar art and elaborately carved canoe ornaments. The beaded aprons from this area, with their beautiful and fascinating designs, are also much sought after by collectors. The aprons were worn only during ceremonial occasions. The intricate and complex patterns of the aprons are unique in New Guinea and, unlike other aprons of the region, are five-sided rather than rectangular. This raises the question as to origin of the aprons and their patterns. Are they a relatively recent innovation or are they based on long traditional designs?
The peoples of the northwest coast of New Guinea have interacted with the outside world for thousands of years. Trade of plumes, wood products, and slaves from the area is documented during the peak of the spice trade and during the Dutch dominance of SE Asia. In the mid-nineteenth century prau from Cenderawasih Bay made annual trips of over 1000 km to pay tribute to the Sultan of Ternate. Archaeological evidence, however, shows trade patterns go much further back. Imported textiles, from the Indonesian archipelago, and beads and ceramics, from Asia, were treasured by the inhabitants of the Cenderawasih Bay area as heirloom articles passed on to the next generation at marriages or at death.
It has been suggested by several authors that the patterns of Geelvink Bay aprons are copied from imported textiles. However, an understanding of the traditional beliefs of the coastal inhabitants of the bay before conversion to Christianity suggests that most, if not all of the patterns, had powerful meaning to the wearers. The symbols have meaning in their mythology and reverence for ancestors. Patterns represent mythological creatures and significant astronomical features – symbols that are not surprising for what was mainly a hunter-gatherer community with strong ties to the sea. Even the five-sided shape of the aprons has a special meaning related to the night sky.
The similarity with patterns in SE Asian textiles is presumably because of a shared history. Many of the peoples of the coastal area of Cenderawasih Bay speak Austronesian languages and the area was presumably populated during the great Austronesian oceanic migrations, displacing Papuan-speaking people inland. Patterns in the beaded aprons may be best explained as a combination of Austronesian and Papuan cultural symbols.