About the object
The carved figure has a round head, a flat face and a long body. It is wearing an apron made of palm leaves and its face is characterised by a beaming smile. The grinning mouth is a typical feature of Tolai figurative depictions. Laughing faces embody the tabaran, ancestral spirits well-disposed towards man. This type of figure was probably used in ritual dances of the iniet male secret society.
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Almond-shaped eyes, a broad triangular nose and a laughing mouth lend this carved figure its friendly, funny and open expression. The white primer was traditionally obtained by burning coral, the black colour was created from a mixture of soot and palm oil, whereas the red was obtained from earth/clay pigments. The sculpture, which is generally classified as an ancestor figure, is from the Tolai tribe, who are native to the Gazelle Peninsula in the eastern part of New Britain. The broad grinning mouth is typical of the Tolai style of art and can also be found on masks and especially on dance props, such as bamboo flutes, boards or batons. The depictions of laughing faces embodied the tabaran, ancestral spirits well-disposed towards man. This type of figure was probably used in ritual dances of the iniet secret society. The men-only iniet-society was closely related to the religion of the Tolai, in which the ancestors played a central role. It was believed that the souls of the deceased were connected to the living after death and could influence them both positively and negatively. The members of the secret society were initiated into the secrets of the spirit world and magic rituals. The exact meaning of the figure can no longer be ascertained. To this day, little is known about the ceremonies, as they were kept secret by the Tolai from strangers and the uninitiated. In addition, the secret societies were not only most fiercely opposed by foreign missionaries, but they were also banned by the German colonial administration (1885-1914). The iniet-society was completely expunged. Author: Heike Gerlach, Translation: Timothy Connell