The Modern World During and After the World Wars, C. 1914–1960

Pacific Art

What are bisj poles?

The bisj pole is an important ritual wood carving made by the Asmat people of the western portion of New Guinea. The bisj pole is a tall, narrow ancestor pole depicting ancestor spirits standing upon one another, and can be approximately twenty feet high. The bisjpole plays an important role in the Asmat tradition of headhunting and is used in ceremonies related to the cycle of life, death, and warfare. The Asmat make the bisjpole from sago palm because, according to legends, Asmat ancestors were first created from sago palms by a divine hero named Fumeripitsj, the first being on earth. This fact emphasizes the Asmat correlation between the human body and the tree. By extension, the human head is symbolically represented as fruit. On the pole itself, carved images of birds eating fruit represent the headhunter who eats the brain of a warrior he has captured. Large, protruding fins at the top of the bisjpole are phallic symbols of power and virility.


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