Ancestral board

Registration number
Item name
Ancestral board 
Indigenous name
Associated cultural group
Pacific > Papua New Guinea > Gulf Province > Kikori District > Orokolo
Acquisition date
January 01, 1947 
Acquisition method
Foundation Donation from Mrs D. Cameron 
H: W: L: D: Circum:


Research notes

Hohaos, or ancestral boards, are made by the Elema people of the Papuan Gulf area. They were traditionally carved in wood and were kept in the Eravos or mens' houses, many never being taken outside. Hohaos represent mythical heroes and are named after them. The power of the board was invoked in times of war, when the mythical hero embodied in the Hohao was believed to walk in front of the warriors and lead them into battle. It could also be used to invoke hunting magic. Hohaos are oval in shape, four to five feet high, and carved from wood or sometimes from a piece of broken canoe. The resulting concavity of the surface is considered an integral part of its form. They are carved in flat relief and the principal image is a highly stylized face with prominent eyes, a gaping mouth baring its teeth, a nose, which usually projects from the board, and a navel. This simple formula exists in innumerable variations and is elaborated on with decorative patterns that are the aualari designs, i.e. symbols of the clan. On practically every board the navel is prominent, mostly represented by concentric circles and sometimes a star shape. This represents the place of origin of the clan. Each aualari group (linear division) considers it extremely important to keep spiritual contact with its place of origin. Although many were very old, hohaos were never intentionally destroyed, and could be replaced if irreparably damaged by insects. However, most were destroyed when the Eravos were burned around the time of World War Two. Very few have survived from that period. More recently though the craft has been revived, but these are made mostly for the tourist market. Part of Brisbane auctioneer Mr John Samuel Cameron's (died ca 1917) collection which was sold after his widow's death. Bought by Dr Winterbotham and C A Fitzgerald at auction. The Foundation Donation comprises the items from L. P. Winterbotham's personal collection, which were donated to the University of Queensland in 1948 and form the basis of the Anthropology Museum.

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