Exhibiting Historical Art: Out of the Vault: Stories of People and Things

Sepik River Headrest

This wooden headrest was crafted on the banks of the Sepik river in Papa New Guinea, probably around the turn of the 20th century. The lush, forested Sepik river area is home to over one hundred indigenous tribes who are famed for their intricate carvings and clay pottery.  Wooden headrests were used throughout Oceania to preserve the hairstyle during sleep. Two prominent ancestral head carvings decorate the sides, homages to the rich cultural history and spirituality of the native people.

The people of the Sepik region created practical wooden headrests like this for everyday use until quite recently. However, as tourists began to stream into the remote area, the headrests were crafted as souvenirs. Though the original function of this specific object is impossible to determine, it now functions as art, allowing the viewer a look at a culture shrouded in mystery and isolation.

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