Figure | temes nevimbur

um 1890

About the object

The temes nevimbur marionette from Malekula, an island in the state of Vanuatu, is modelled from clay on the top of a stick. The reddish-brown primer is painted with ornamental patterns in black and white. The arms are spread out sideways and upwards from the body. The face is framed by two boar tusks that extend from the eyebrows to the corners of the mouth. Wooden shavings decorated with barkcloth and feathers protrude above the apex of the figure. Temes figures embody primeval beings and are the main protagonists of the ceremonies of the nevimbur men's secret society.
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The figure, modelled from clay on top of a stick, comes from Malekula, an island in the state of Vanuatu, the former New Hebrides. Its use was closely linked to the men-only Nevimbur secret society. The admission of a new member was the occasion for a ceremony, in which the beings of primeval times were made as life-size figures. They were called temes, an expression for the souls of the ancestors. The ceremony took place in three successive ritual cycles. It was a theatrical staging of the mythical primeval event with the temes figures as the main protagonists. Held up and played by men, they protruded over a fence, giving the audience the impression that they were dancing themselves. At the end of the first performance, the figures were beaten to death with a club and then recreated in large numbers. Finally, the acting figures were impaled on fence posts and then burned together with the fence. This act of destruction symbolises human decay, and the creation of new temes figures is interpreted as a symbol of the renewal of life. Death and rebirth play an essential role in all initiation rites that accompany the entry into a new phase of life. Admission to the secret society was a special privilege and had to be purchased. Payment was made with pigs as currency, whereby boars with large tusks in particular were considered the epitome of wealth. For this, one came into possession of a number of temes figures. Author: Heike Gerlach, Translation: Timothy Connell

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