Yam cult head (yina)

20th century
Artist Unidentified, Pacific Islander

Object Place: Papua New Guinea


152.4 cm (60 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, pigment, feathers

On View

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


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art



In the Washkuk Hills bordering the upper Sepik, the Kwoma peoples and their closely related neighbors the Nukuma and Manambu share a unique tradition revolving around the cultivation of yams. An annual series of rituals associated with the yam harvest ensures the tuber’s continuing abundance and renders it suitable for human consumption. Clans sponsor the events, which are staged in a sequence of three rituals each involving different types of figures. Men carve elongated wooden heads such as this one for the first two ceremonies of the series and arrange them on a large mound of recently harvested yams. Each ritual lasts two days, during which the men perform songs and dances to purify the yams. At the conclusion of the ceremonies they store the yina heads, later repainting them to reinvigorate their power prior to the next series of events. Douglas Newton, then at the Museum of Primitive Art in New York, collected this repainted head in 1970. Its long, hooklike nose descends over a facial plane dominated by bulging, ringed eyes. A serpentine tongue loops downward to touch the planklike extension of the chin or neck.


1970, acquired from a ceremonial house in a Kwoma village, Upper Sepik River, Papua New Guinea, by Douglas Newton (b. 1920 - d. 2001), New York. January, 1972, sold by Staempfli Gallery, New York, to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1992, gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA. (Accession Date: September 23, 1992)

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel