Colour slide

Registration number
Item name
Colour slide 
Indigenous name
Professor Robert MacLennan  
Associated cultural group
Pacific > Papua New Guinea > East Sepik Province > Maprik District > Neligum
Acquisition date
June 17, 2013 
Acquisition method
Donated by MacLennan family 
Raw material
photographic emulsion, plastic, cardboard
H: 35 mm W: 35 mm L: D: Circum:


Research notes

Ngwallndu are the custodians of Abelam traditions; rewarding and punishing the Abelam through their success or failure of the cultivation of yams for food and ceremony (Gerrits, 2012: 119). Secret knowledge of taboos and magic can be used to keep ngwalldnu onside but this could only be obtained through the seven stages of initiation.

This photo is unusual since it depicts a scene restricted only to initiates. Here the final stage of initiation, Puti is embodied as a statue sculpture seated deep within the haus tambaran. Ngwallndu puti is surrounded by shell rings, fruit, cassowary bone daggers and a cane fence decorated with shiny white Ovula ovum shells. The shell rings were marked by the owners with cassowary bone daggers and would usually be retrieved very soon afterwards*.

The growing of the very long yams still has prestige and is encouraged by local politicians and business with monetary prizes. The Abelam believe that the tambarans assist fertility despite Christian teaching that God instead influences yam growing*.

Today initiation is still practiced in the Abelam although the structure has changed. Generally the Abelam believe that ngwallndu rules and taboos do not apply to people outside of the East Sepik Province and this photograph is not considered to be secret or sensitive (R MacLennan 2012, pers. comm., 8 Nov & D Losche 2012, pers. comm., 22 Dec).

*R MacLennan, pers. comm., 8 November 2012.

Ngwal inside Neligum haus tamberan [R. MacLennan 2004, List of Papua New Guinea slides].

Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program in memory of Professor Bob MacLennan.

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