Ancestor skull “Ndambirkus” human skull, honey brown patina, the lower jawbone tightly attached to the skull with a cord-like material, the eye-sockets are filled with beeswax, decorated with grey seeds of Job’s-Tear Grass (Coix lacryma-jobi) and red seeds of the Crab’s Eye Vine (Abrus precatorius). The nose is modeled with a blackish resin-like material, and is embellished with a piece of Cymbium shell was cut in the shape of aa head-hunter’s “bipane”, a spiral shell nose- ornament. The head band is made with cord and Coix seeds and is decorated with tassels of feathers from the white cockatoo. Earrings with feather tassels decorate the ears.
The basic thematics of the Asmat Culture are head-hunting and ancestor worshipping. Their ceremonial life is chiefly aimed at appeasing the spirits of the dead, which is why skulls of treasured ancestors, or “Ndambirkus”, were such elaborately embellished. Furthermore, the importance of captured heads in traditional Asmat life is clearly demonstrated by the role they played in male initiation. It was impossible for boys to become men without taking a head. A man’s vital strength is said to be particularly present in the skull, and the life force of another provided the energy necessary for a boy to make the jump to manhood.
Good Condition; just like normal household articles in Asmat culture human skulls were part of everyday life. The skull of a treasured ancestor was treated with outmost respect, it was dressed in a ceremonial manner and kept in a secure place. Sometimes it was attached to a cord and worn around the neck. The men used to carry the skulls around with them in order to keep in contact with the ancestors. When sleeping they used the ancestor skulls as a head rest.
The skulls of enemies, called “Ndaokus” were kept in the mens house. They always show a hole in the side of the skull which was used to remove the brains which were later ingested. The lower jawbone was always separated from the skull and given to the women to wear as a necklace, which was regarded as the ultimate insult towards the enemy. Provenance : Private Collection, Austria (1960).