Irian Jaya Ethnographic Collection

Value (2013) | $2,500 Retail$3,500 Retail

In the late ‘70s or early ’80s, I decided to take a anthropological excursion into Irian Jaya. I went by myself, I hired a guide there, and we started trekking up the mountain, going towards a certain village. Before we got there, we met these people, and they challenged us with spears, came right up to us. And after they accepted us, with my guide interpreting, they incorporated us into the war games. This one and this one are simply dress pieces they wore as necklaces. This is a ritualistic knife used for amputations. When a woman loses a husband, a mother, a father, or a child they mourn them by amputating one of the woman's fingers. And they will take up to three fingers. And many times, you see women walking like this.

First of all, we have to put it into context, Michael Rockefeller died in 1961 in the Asmat area, which is a short distance from these people.


That material is now the primary material from New Guinea in the Metropolitan Museum. And now, that's material that came out literally 10 or 15 years before you gathered this. So, that's an important thing to remember. This is a fairly obscure tribe, and so, the fact that you were there, and this still existed, in really, a traditional state, is exciting and really terrific that you collected it. As is, with the story and the fantastic picture down there, this is a collection that could be worth two to three thousand dollars. Now, we do have two more pieces that I've held back. And I'm gonna hand one to you. And, as we know, these things are penis sheaths, or koteka. Now, what is really fascinating, is in 1970 and ’71, the government of Irian Jaya tried to abolish penis sheaths. And it was actually called Operation Koteka. It was unsuccessful. They tried to get the natives into shorts, and it didn't work. These things are slipped over the penis, and they're used for protection as they run through the bush. It's also an idea where they're trying to keep the little girls from seeing that part of the man's anatomy. And then, finally, I think we have to accept the fact that it could be a fertility device that maybe is advertising to some extent.


I would say that the value of the sheaths are probably in the five to seven hundred-dollar range. And again, with the fabulous documentation. So now, if we take the sheaths and we add it in with the other group, we're in the 25 to 35 hundred dollar range for the entire collection.

Very nice.

Appraisal Details

Dallas, TX
Appraised value (2013)
$2,500 Retail$3,500 Retail
Detroit, MI (June 01, 2013)
Folk Art

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