korwar is an old style statuette mainly made in Cenderawasih Bay in the Indonesian province of Papua . These statuettes are so characteristic that they give their name to the style of local art: the korwar style .


korwar is a statuette representing an exaggerated skull on a human body sitting, knees and bent elbows touching to form a W. In his hands, the statue holds a perforated screen: it is thought that it represents a tree of life or the molt of the snake, these two symbols representing the idea of ​​rebirth 1 . The korwar is made of wood, in very rare cases limestone. The arrowhead nose is characteristic of the korwar style . Originally, the skull of the deceased deceased ancestor of all flesh was deposited on the sculpture. However many are the korwarwho are content to represent the skull. In Paris (Louvre Museum, Pavillon des Sessions), an exceptional korwar is preserved: its head is not represented but is made up of a real human skull! It was surely a very powerful leader from which the honor of having kept his true head and not having carved it.

Ritual use

This statue serves as a receptacle for the spirit of a dead ancestor ( korwar in the local language) so that it does not wick what would be unfortunate for the living and would lose prestige and power to the family who dishonours his deceased . The deceased, honored by this statue, obtains a statue of sacred order and therefore serves as a guide for the living. It is questioned for major decisions to be made including sleeping on the skull or through a divination rite.

Prohibition and collection

The use of human skulls for this purpose was at the beginning of the last century banned on pressure from the Dutch colonial government . Ethnological museums in the Netherlands – including the Leiden Museum of Ethnology ( Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde ), the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam – have dozens of Korwar in their collections. It is often colonial agents on the spot but also explorers and scientists who have collected these objects. As in Oceania, the missionaries’ taking of the most venerated objects was a proof of the success of their apostolate.

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Alain Nicolas assumes that this provision would be to Indonesian influence; Alain Nicolas Papou Art , Scala Editors & idem Art Papou , exhibition catalog