Talipuns - A Unique Boiken Artifact Talipuns A Unique Boiken Artifact By Ron May The talipun is an artifact unique to the Yangoru Boiken and Plains Boiken (Saussia) people of East Sepik Province. It is an important item of ceremonial exchange, particularly in bride-price payments. An image of a talipun is included on the design of Papua New Guinea’s 5 kina banknote. The talipun consists of a section of the giant green snail, or turban shell (Turbo marmoratus), onto which is attached a decoration, usually in the form of a face finely plaited or coiled from cane which is obtained from rainforest vines. The Boiken people distinguish three types of talipun: male (hombulyi), which is a section from the heavy base of the shell, and a smaller female (horie)—both of which may be used in exchange—and one with special powers (koliava), which may be male or female and is kept in the family dwelling, to ensure fertile gardens and healthy pigs, or in the clan spirit house (Tok Pisin haus tambaran). The Yangoru Boiken, who live in hamlets on the lower ridges of the Prince Alexander Range around what is now the district station of Yangoru, obtained the marine shells from the people of the offshore islands of Mushu, Kairiru, Walis, and Tarawai. They made the trip along established trade routes across the mountains to the coast (a trip of around two to three days). There they lit fires to signal the island-dwelling Boiken who sailed across to trade the shells for bilums (string bags which are made, with local variations, throughout most of Papua New Guinea), tobacco, and food items. According to one informant, one shell traded for six bilums. The Yangoru carried the shells back to their hamlets, where they cut and polished them and attached the decorations. The sections of the shell to be kept were wrapped in green banana leaves; the other parts were burnt, making them brittle, and then tapped away with a stone adze. Finally, the shell was smoothed and polished with a grinding stone. The village of Ambukanja appears to have been something of a center for the trade in talipuns, and some villagers obtained the shells through trade with Ambukanja. The Saussia people, from hamlets in the Sepik Plains to the south of Yangoru, followed another trade route to the east through Passam and Paliama to the coast, but otherwise shared the traditions of the Yangoru Boiken. The occasional talipun has been collected in Abelam villages to the west of the Boiken and as far south as the Sepik River, but were not part of the Abelam or Sepik River cultures. Mostly, the talipun decorations consisted of plaited faces or heads, often with protruding eyes, representing spirits (masalai) or clan totems such as the hornbill (fale), black cockatoo (maenge), black hawk (sangi), or kite (peli); one was said to represent a tree kangaroo. These are similar in style and material to the “yam masks” used to decorate yams in harvest ceremonies among the Boiken and the Abelam, who are linguistically and culturally related. In some examples, the decoration consists of a cylindrical head surmounted by a wooden carving of a bird’s head. Two examples collected by Ron Perry in 1975 had hornbill skins, complete with heads and beaks, attached to the shell and standing almost a meter high. Another common form of decoration (yabi) consists of a central disc with cylindrical shapes extending out from both sides; these were said to represent the structures built by small native bees (yabi = bee). According to Paul Roscoe (pers. comm. 2010), the designs sometimes also had “hidden” meanings associated with female genitalia. Decorations are typically edged with cassowary feathers. In a few examples, the decoration has been carved from wood. The decorations were painted, mostly in white (from a white clay), red (derived either from the ashes of a tree or from the seeds of the Bixa plant or from ochre), yellow (ochre), and black (charcoal mixed with the sap of certain trees). After European contact, Reckitt’s blue (the laundry whitener) was sometimes added to the palette, and trade store dyes or paint often replaced traditional materials. Each clan had its own symbols and, although to the outsider different clan decorations often look very similar, copying a rival clan’s design was a capital offense. Some generic designs (Tok Pisin mak nating), however, could be used by anyone; one such design was horimine, a face with protruding eyes; another was the yabi. As well as being used in bride-price payments, talipuns were used in mortuary transactions and, according to one informant, in compensation following inter-clan or tribal warfare. The talipuns were used in association with shell rings (Boiken wenga and yua), laboriously cut with bamboo “drills” from giant clam shells (Tridacna gigas) obtained from the coast by the Yangoru Boiken’s neighbors, the Pukia (Margaret Meade’s “Mountain Arapesh”). In bride-price transactions, the talipuns and rings were laid out (“lined”) in a formal pattern which was said to represent the body—arms, legs, head, and torso. Traditionally, up to twenty talipuns might be used in a single bride-price transaction. The bride-price was subsequently distributed amongst the bride’s brothers and other relatives. Some shells have notches cut into the side of the shell to mark how many times they have been traded. The koliava were said to be “strong” talipuns which could “pulim olgeta samting” (attract [good] things). They were kept in the house, often in association with carved wooden spirit figures, and were apparently not used in exchanges. With the intrusion of Christian missions into the Yangoru area in the 1930s and 1950s, much of the Yangoru Boiken culture disappeared and in the 1960s and 1970s talipuns were heavily collected by artifact dealers. A few are still used in traditional exchanges but their manufacture appears to have died out. I am grateful to Paul Roscoe and Michael Hamson for additional information to supplement my field notes from the early to mid 1970s. Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Payment Yangoru Boiken culture area, early 20th century, 16 3/4" (42.4 cm) in height, Michael Kremerskothen Collection, Dortmund, Germany Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Payment Yangoru Boiken culture area, early/mid 20th century, 10 1/4" (26.0 cm) in height, Michael Kremerskothen Collection, Dortmund, Germany Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Payment Yangoru Boiken culture area, early 20th century, 9 1/2" (24.0 cm) in height Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Payment Yangoru Boiken culture area, early 20th century, 10 1/2" (26.7 cm) in height, Sam and Sharon Singer Collection, San Francisco, CA, USA Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Payment with Arms Yangoru Boiken culture area, early 20th century, 14 1/2" (37 cm) in height, Michael Kremerskothen Collection, Dortmund, Germany Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Payment with Arms and Legs Yangoru Boiken culture area, early 20th century, 12 1/8" (31.0 cm) in height, Sam and Sharon Singer Collection, San Francisco, CA, USA Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Payment with Arms Yangoru Boiken culture area, early 20th century, 16 1/2" (41.8 cm) in height, illustrated in Aesthetics of Integrity in New Guinea Art, 2007, p. 33, Sam and Sharon Singer Collection, San Francisco, CA, USA Yangouro Boiken Talipun Bride Price Payment, Taro Shape with Wooden Bird Head Yangoru Boiken culture area, early 20th century, 17 3/4" (45.1 cm) in height Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Payment, Double Taro Shape with Wooden Bird Head Yangoru Boiken culture area, early 20th century, 22 1/2" (57.0 cm) in height, Helmut Gutbrod Collection, Berlin, Germany Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Payment with Two Small Taro/Bird Shapes Yangoru Boiken culture area, early 20th century, 12 1/4" (31 cm) in height, Helmut Gutbrod Collection, Berlin, Germany Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Payment Within the realm of tribal art tradition and the adherence to classic forms is often found a universal principle. This is true for the most part in Oceania, but this strict adherence to a particular convention tends to break down a bit in New Guinea. Amongst the Boiken, the artistic guidelines of one’s grandfather seems only to serve as a launching pad to one’s own artistic sensibilities. The Boiken are fiercely egalitarian, and the artists often have a competitive streak of one-upmanship to them. Talipun come in a seemingly endless variety of styles and forms. There is a whimsical creativity to them that is of a different level altogether. The present talipun is a case in point with an oval-shaped wooden top featuring a relief-carved ancestral spirit figure. Along the wooden section’s outer edge is a band of traditional cane. The figure is painted bright pink, and it floats above a background of vivid blue. The sturdy, minimally worked green turban seashell marks this talipun as a male humbuli. This one was field collected by Michael Kremerskothen and published in both “Art of the Boiken” 2011, no. 99 and most recently in “Oceanic Art Provenance & History” no. 38, pages 170/71. The talipun dates to the early 20th century, stands 19 ¼” 948.8 cm) in height and sells for $7500. Yangoru Boiken Talipun Wooden Spirit Face Yangoru Boiken culture area, early 20th century, 11 1/2" (29.1 cm) in height, Sam and Sharon Singer Collection, San Francisco, CA, USA Yangoru Boiken Talipun, ex. Lynda Cunningham Collection It is hard not to enjoy the imagination and creativity constantly shown in Yangoru Boiken talipun bride price payments. The cane spirit faces are clan specific and are lashed to cut and often polished green turban sea shells. They were used primarily for bride price but also for death and other ritual forms of exchange. This one is striking with a tall projection coming off the top of the head and has nice remains of red, white and black pigments. It comes from the estate of Lynda Cunningham, dates to the early/mid 20th century, stands 16” (40.6 cm) in height and sells for $1700. Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Mask Yangoru region, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea Yangoru Boiken culture area Ex. Ronald Clyne Collection, Brooklyn, NY Pre-contact, stone-carved, late 19th/early 20th century 14 ½” (36.9 cm) in height Many of you would know of the Yangoru Boiken talipun assemblages of whimsical cane spirit masks attached to a cut and polished green turban seashell used primarily in bride price exchanges. Yet few would be familiar with the small subset of talipun spirit masks made from wood—such as the present example. There are just a small handful known of which five I previously published in my Art of the Boiken catalog of 2011 (nos. 99—103). In the present example the face is carved thinly from a lightwood, no doubt to enable it to be mounted vertically by delicate vine lashings to the seashell base. It has the classic leaf shape bent outward to a raised ridge bisecting the eyes, creating the nose with deeply pierced septum and flattening into a toothy grin. The almost stitched-looking mouth is mimicked in the treatment surrounding the radiating eyes and the sharp dentate above and below the face. The inverted smile on the forehead enables the face to be read inverted as well—a common pictorial convention in New Guinea art. The face is edged, of course, with the ubiquitous cassowary feathers. The lighter wood used seems to enable gentler volumes and extra refinement like the subtle raised ridge encircling the face. The overall effect is a friendly, almost animated appearance. Which, I guess, makes sense as the previous owner was Ronald Clyne, a prominent graphic artist whose career started with publishing a cartoon at the age of fifteen. Over a career that last 50 years he was most famous for the approximately 500 album covers he designed for Folkways Records. Clyne’s collection of Oceanic art started in the 1960s when he donated camera equipment to Catholic missionaries in Wewak, Papua New Guinea. A year later, totally out of the blue, arrived huge crates filled with artifacts—some of which turned out to be masterpieces. Clyne was a disciplined collector who understood and appreciated the objects original cultural context at the same time using the pieces to tastefully complement his contemporary art collection and the mid-century modern aesthetic of his Brooklyn Heights house. Yangoru Boiken Talipun Bride Price Face Yangoru Boiken culture, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea Ex. Ronald Clyne (1925–2006) Collection, Brooklyn Published in Oceanic Art, Adrienne Kaeppler, Christian Kaufmann & Douglas Newton, 1997, no. 860 Early/mid 20th century 11” (28 cm) in height This cane face would have been attached to a cut and polished green turban seashell and used as a form of wealth in traditional transactions such as bride price payments. The face is a clan-specific spirit with prominent tubular eyes. This striking example comes from the Ronald Clyne Collection. Clyne was a noted graphic artist most well known for his book and album covers. He had a great aesthetic eye and kept his collection small and elite in his tasteful Brooklyn home. Figure from Yangoru Boiken Talipun Yangoru Boiken culture, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea Ex. Michael Kremerskothen Collection, Dortmund, Germany Early/mid 20th century 12¾” (32.4 cm) in height Boiken artists work with traditional materials, motifs, and symbolism but sure have room to unfurl their individual creativity, as evidenced by this highflying figure from the top of a Yangoru Boiken talipun bride price payment. I have seen over 500 talipun over the years and have not encountered anything remotely similar. Yangour Boiken Wooden Talipun Face The Boiken culture of Papua New Guinea’s Prince Alexander Mountains are prolific artists with a great sculptural tradition—but with virtually no wooden masks. This is a superb early one—with definitive signs of pre-contact, stone-tool marks on the reverse. Carved from a dense hardwood the face has good volumes with a raised nose that is deeply pierced. There are bold red, white and black pigments and an upward pointing bird beak at the base. Look at the wonderful aged reverse side with scalloped stone adze marks under a dark brown patina. The mask comes from the collection of Michael Kremerskothen in Dortmund Germany, dates to the early 20th century, is 15 ½” (39.3 cm) in height.