Totemic Masks of the Sepik

Sepik TotemsThe Rotella Gallery has created a spectacular new print featuring five traditional masks I photographed while filming for a new Australian television special.

The people of the Sepik River produce some of the most extraordinary totemic carvings and paintings in the world. These are the material symbols of a highly developed religious world of ideas. Paramount to these ideas is their relationship to their environment.  Perhaps the most dramatic totem or symbol is the crocodile, which rose from the floodwaters to create land, then disappeared back into the flood.  This is a reptilian lord of life on land and water, whose spirit remains protective and thus is carved on masks and shields, which are worn in clan celebrations.

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Papua New Guinea: Behind the Scenes & Sepik Totems

I was able to upload the rest of the images from the Sepik before hopping on the airplane to head home.

Traveling up the Sepik River has definitely been a greater challenge than the earlier part of the trip. However, struggle is not without its rewards. References to freshwater crocodiles are in evidence everywhere you look in Sepik tribal culture. The Sepik tribes revere the freshwater crocs since they are the only big, bad thing in their environment (other than the clouds of bloodsucking mosquitoes). They mimic the scales in their corporeal scarification and their houses are made of layered leaves to look like croc scales. Sacred totems and elaborate carvings also colorfully incorporate the crocodile.

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