Sawos, Middle Sepik River
19th–20th century
Artist Unidentified, Pacific Islander

Object Place: Tolembi Village, Sepik River, Papua New Guinea


Overall: 38.1 x 121.9cm (15 x 48in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, pigment, fibers

On View

Arts of Asia, Oceania, and Africa Gallery (Gallery 177)


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art


Architectural elements

On the Sepik River, large ceremonial houses called tamberans were built for men’s initiations, secret ceremonies, and other male gatherings held apart from the rest of the community. Tamberans were decorated inside and out with paintings and carvings depicting ancestors and clan totems. On this lintel, the central figure represents a clan ancestor, the crocodile and boar heads at either end are animal totems, and the eight headless figures depict head-hunting victims slain on raids made by the clan.


From a ceremonial men’s house, Tolembi, Papua New Guinea [see note]. 1981, sale, Sotheby’s, London. May 21, 1986, sold by Wayne Heathcote (dealer), New York, to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1992, gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA. (Accession Date: September 23, 1992)

NOTE: Photographed in situ by Buhler in 1959 and by Douglas Newton in 1964.

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel