A PAPUA WOOD FIGURE OF A KORWAR
North West Irian Jaya, Vogelkop area, coastal Geelvink Bay, present-day Cenderawasih Bay, early 20th century
The seated Korwar is holding an openwork “shield” in front of him, with a dark brown soft gloss patina.
H. 34 cm
From the collection of Missionary D.B. Starrenburg, working in the Geelvink Bay area, on the peninsula of Roon, from 1906 till 1938 and thence by descent to the last owner in December 2019.
Starrenburg published a booklet about his mission on Roon and described how he got the Korwar:
"Around the hut, there were skulls and small ancestor sculptures (called Korwar). As the owners wanted to become Christians, I could take everything, but I wasn't allowed to take them away through the front door, so a hole was made in the side of the hut. Onboard of my little boat, a storm came up and I nearly lost everything. The Papua attributed this happening to the power of the spirts, but I came home with everything safely anyway!"
Starrenburg is also referred to as being on Roon around 1910 in the famous book ' Kruis en Korwar' by Drs. F.C. Kamma.
D.B. Starrenburg, Kerk der Hope: bijdrage tot kennis der Nieuw-Guinea Zending, Nederlandsch Jongelings-Verbond, Amsterdam, 1940.
The shield may stand for bravery, or it may offer supernatural protection. Korwar is the name of a specific type of figurative sculpture, representing an ancestor, made by different groups of people with their distinct names and cultural identities, but all living in the “Vogelkop”, Kepala Burung, area
of Irian Jaya. Korwar provides the link between the worlds of the dead and the living and, as in most Oceanic cultures, are consulted for advice and help in all significant life events such as births, marriages and deaths. It could also offer protection and success on head-hunting raids, on dangerous sea journeys and when curing people.
From the late 1880s onwards, many korwar images were destroyed upon the instigation of Protestant missionaries, but some missionaries also collected korwar taken from Papuas after their conversion to Christianity.