Last updated

The timbuwarra, or timbuwara (tentatively translated as "spirit of the flesh which guards the doors" [1] ), is a type of ritual figure produced by the Wiru people of the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Timbuwarra figures are generally made of rattan and painted, and may serve several functions, although they are generally held to be associated with fertility rites and with the spirit world. [2] Few are known to exist, and their purpose is generally poorly understood. [1]

The Wiru are a people of the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. They speak the Wiru language. Among their rituals is the production of timbuwarra out of rattan.

Southern Highlands Province Place in Papua New Guinea

Southern Highlands is a province in Papua New Guinea. Its provincial capital is the town of Mendi. According to Papua New Guinea's national 2011 census, the total population of Southern Highlands is 515,511 spread across 15,089 square kilometers (5,826 sq mi). Before the split there were two major ethnic groups, the Huli Speakers and the Angal Speakers or Angal Heneng. Today the Majority of the Population in Southern Highlands is made up of Angal Speakers or Angal Heneng Speaks. They occupy three provinces Southern Highlands, Hela (Magarima) and Enga

Papua New Guinea constitutional monarchy in Oceania

Papua New Guinea, officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, is an Oceanian country that occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands in Melanesia, a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Its capital, located along its southeastern coast, is Port Moresby. The western half of New Guinea forms the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

Timbuwarra are flat, woven, and anthropomorphic. [2] Usually they are made of rattan and painted with ochre pigments in earth tones; [3] [4] they may also be further decorated with cassowary feathers and beads. [4] They may sometimes also take the form of animals. [5] The figures are created by elders during times of disaster, such as disease, earthquake, or famine. [5] The uses of the timbuwarra are varied; they are most often seen as guardian figures outside of ceremonial houses, which are constructed at some distance from the village. [2] [3] [4] They would sometimes be used in mourning rituals, [3] and have been described as representations of dead women to which respects may be paid by friends and relatives; the status of the women and their manner of death is not known. [1] [2] Sometimes, timbuwarra would also be used during male initiation rites to teach boys about sexual behavior. One collector has recorded:

Ochre painting material and color

Ochre or ocher is a natural clay earth pigment which is a mixture of ferric oxide and varying amounts of clay and sand. It ranges in colour from yellow to deep orange or brown. It is also the name of the colours produced by this pigment, especially a light brownish-yellow. A variant of ochre containing a large amount of hematite, or dehydrated iron oxide, has a reddish tint known as "red ochre".

Cassowary genus of birds

Cassowaries , genus Casuarius, are ratites that are native to the tropical forests of New Guinea, East Nusa Tenggara, the Maluku Islands, and northeastern Australia.

Bead small decorative object with drilled hole

A bead is a small, decorative object that is formed in a variety of shapes and sizes of a material such as stone, bone, shell, glass, plastic, wood or pearl and with a small hole for threading or stringing. Beads range in size from under 1 millimetre (0.039 in) to over 1 centimetre (0.39 in) in diameter. A pair of beads made from Nassarius sea snail shells, approximately 100,000 years old, are thought to be the earliest known examples of jewellery. Beadwork is the art or craft of making things with beads. Beads can be woven together with specialized thread, strung onto thread or soft, flexible wire, or adhered to a surface.

One of these that I had had two holes down in the abdomen area – one above the other. I was told that this was used to teach the young men which hole to aim for during sex to avoid pregnancy. [6]

They were also sometimes carried or worn by village men during fertility rites; [5] when worn, they were often attached to a ceremonial wig in a fashion known locally as "female pinned by a penis to the wig". [2]

Once timbuwarra have outlived their purpose, they are buried to refertilize the earth from which they were formed. [5] A small number, however, have found their way into Western collections in more recent years; an example exists in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, while others are held privately. [2] [3] The practice of making them died out with the coming of Catholic missionaries in the 1950s, and few are made today. [7]

Art Gallery of New South Wales public gallery in Sydney

The Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), located in The Domain in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, is the most important public gallery in Sydney and one of the largest in Australia. The Gallery's first public exhibition opened in 1874. Admission is free to the general exhibition space, which displays Australian art, European and Asian art. A dedicated Asian Gallery was opened in 2003.

Related Research Articles

Fertility rite

Fertility rites are religious rituals that reenact, either actually or symbolically, sexual acts and/or reproductive processes: "sexual intoxication is a typical component of the rites of the various functional gods who control reproduction, whether of man, beast, cattle, or grains of seed". Such rites may involve the sacrifice of "a primal animal, which must be sacrificed in the cause of fertility or even creation".

Figurine small item resembling something, usually a person

A figurine or statuette is a small statue that represents a human, deity or animal, or in practice a pair or small group of them. Figurines have been made in many media, with clay, metal, wood, glass, and today plastic or resin the most significant. Ceramic figurines not made of porcelain are called terracottas in historical contexts.

Court dress comprises the style of clothes prescribed for courts of law, and for royal courts.


Yūrei (幽霊) are figures in Japanese folklore, analogous to Western legends of ghosts. The name consists of two kanji, 幽 (), meaning "faint" or "dim" and 霊 (rei), meaning "soul" or "spirit". Alternative names include 亡霊 (Bōrei), meaning ruined or departed spirit, 死霊 (Shiryō) meaning dead spirit, or the more encompassing 妖怪 (Yōkai) or お化け (Obake).

<i>Hieros gamos</i>

Hieros gamos or Hierogamy is a sexual ritual that plays out a marriage between a god and a goddess, especially when enacted in a symbolic ritual where human participants represent the deities.

Chiwara ritual object representing an antelope, used by the Bambara ethnic group in Mali

A Chiwara is a ritual object representing an antelope, used by the Bambara ethnic group in Mali. The Chiwara initiation society uses Chiwara masks, as well as dances and rituals associated primarily with agriculture, to teach young Bamana men social values as well as agricultural techniques.

Uli figure wooden statue from New Ireland in Papua New Guinea

Uli figures are wooden statues from New Ireland in Papua New Guinea. Like their neighbors to the north and south, the artistic traditions of the peoples of central New Ireland formerly focused largely around mortuary rites. In contrast to the intricate malagan carvings of the north, artists in central New Ireland produced less ornate but more permanent figures known as uli, which were kept and reused many times. No longer made today, uli were displayed as part of lengthy fertility rites involving the exhumation and reburial of human skulls, which accompanied the planting of sacred plants.

Metate Mesoamerican quern or milling-stone

A metate or metlatl is a type or variety of quern, a ground stone tool used for processing grain and seeds. In traditional Mesoamerican culture, metates were typically used by women who would grind lime-treated maize and other organic materials during food preparation. Similar artifacts are found all over the world, including China.

Pueblo clown

The Pueblo clowns are jesters or tricksters in the Kachina religion. It is a generic term, as there are a number of these figures in the ritual practice of the Pueblo people. Each has a unique role; belonging to separate Kivas and each has a name that differs from one mesa or pueblo to another.

Bora (Australian) initiation ceremony of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia

Bora is an initiation ceremony of the Aboriginal people of Eastern Australia, descended from groups that existed in Australia and surrounding islands before European colonisation. The word "bora" also refers to the site on which the initiation is performed. At such a site, boys, having reached puberty, achieve the status of men. The initiation ceremony differs from Aboriginal culture to culture, but often, at a physical level, involved scarification, circumcision, subincision and, in some regions, also the removal of a tooth. During the rites, the youths who were to be initiated were taught traditional sacred songs, the secrets of the tribe's religious visions, dances, and traditional lore. Many different clans would assemble to participate in an initiation ceremony. Women and children were not permitted to be present at the sacred bora ground where these rituals were undertaken.

Hopi Kachina figure dolls in the Hopi religious tradition

Hopi katsina figures, also known as kachina dolls, are figures carved, typically from cottonwood root, by Hopi people to instruct young girls and new brides about katsinas or katsinam, the immortal beings that bring rain, control other aspects of the natural world and society, and act as messengers between humans and the spirit world.

Magical tools in Wicca

In the neopagan religion of Wicca, a range of magical tools are used in ritual practice. Each of these tools has different uses and associations, and serve primarily to direct magical energies. They are used at an altar, inside a magic circle.

Classic Veracruz culture

Classic Veracruz culture refers to a cultural area in the north and central areas of the present-day Mexican state of Veracruz, a culture that existed from roughly 100 to 1000 CE, or during the Classic era.

Ukrainian wreath

The Ukrainian wreath is a type of wreath which, in traditional Ukrainian culture, is worn by girls and young unmarried women. The wreath may be part of a tradition dating back to the old East Slavic customs that predate the Christianization of Rus. The flower wreath remains a part of the Ukrainian national attire, and is worn on festive occasions and on holy days and since the 2014 Ukrainian revolution increasingly in daily life.

Kwakwakawakw art

Kwakwaka'wakw art describes the art of the Kwakwaka'wakw peoples of British Columbia. It encompasses a wide variety of woodcarving, sculpture, painting, weaving and dance. Kwakwaka'wakw arts are exemplified in totem poles, masks, wooden carvings, jewelry and woven blankets. Visual arts are defined by simplicity, realism, and artistic emphasis. Dances are observed in the many rituals and ceremonies in Kwakwaka'wakw culture. Much of what is known about Kwakwaka'wakw art comes from oral history, archeological finds in the 19th century, inherited objects, and devoted artists educated in Kwakwaka'wakw traditions.


Kulap figurines of limestone or chalk were made in Melanesia. The small funerary sculptures from New Ireland were associated with death rituals. They are typical in the hilly Punam region of the New Ireland province in Papua New Guinea of the Bismarck Archipelago. They were believed to contain the soul of the deceased person whom they were meant to represent, and would be ritually smashed once their usefulness or the period of mourning was over. In more recent years, some have been sold in their intact forms to Westerners, particularly to German administrators.

Kwele people

The Kwele people are a tribal group of eastern Gabon, Republic of the Congo, and Cameroons in West Africa. They fled the coastal area of West Africa during the 19th century, after their traditional enemies acquired firearms from the slave traders. This altercation is often called the "Poupou" war. The Kwele then settled into lands between the Dja and Ivindo rivers. The Kwele are noted for their ceremonial masks which are collected as art objects.

<i>Sumbanese womans ceremonial skirt</i> (Indianapolis Museum of Art)

This early twentieth century woman's ceremonial skirt from the Indonesian island of Sumba is part of the textiles collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which is in Indianapolis, Indiana. Also known as a lau hada, the skirt would have been a nuptial gift for a woman of great social standing, since it is made of imported, machine-woven cotton cloth, glass trade beads, and nassa shells, which were once used as currency.

Fertility and religion

Fertility was often mentioned in many mythological tales. In mythology, fertility deities exist in different belief systems or religions.


  1. 1 2 3 Figure en vannerie at the Collection Barbier-Mueller
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Timbuwarra at about NSW
  3. 1 2 3 4 Timbuwarra at the Tomkins Collection
  4. 1 2 3 Timbuwarra Figures
  5. 1 2 3 4 "Phantom Shields" from Artnet
  6. Michael Hamson, quoted at the Tomkins Collection website
  7. San Saeng No.20 Autumn/Winter 2007 Leaving Together Helping Each Other ISSN   1599-4880