Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1938 Iatmul warrior
Subject: warrior
Culture: Iatmul
Setting: tribal warfare, Sepik 19-20thc

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Silverman 2001 p15
"In the 1930s, regional integration was ... ensured by ongoing warfare.  Typically, vendettas were launched between communities that were linked by trade.  As a result, normative modes of regional interaction were at once those of amity and enmity.  Outright warfare is now extinct yet skirmishes do arise over various sorts of insults, assaults, and challenges to land and water rights.  A martial ethos assuredly remains integral to masculine identity."

* Bateson 1958 p138
"In the business of head-hunting, the masculine ethos no doubt reached its most complete expression; and though at the present time the ethos of head-hunting cannot be satisfactorily observed, there is enough left of the old system to give the investigator some impression of what that system implied."

* Silverman 2001 p116
"In the past, homicides were a prestigious element of masculine identity that elevated a warrior's social status, renown, and name.  For this reason, headhunting would seem to have emphasized an individualized mode of male personhood.  To some degree, this was true.  Yet a warrior's tshambela complicated any notion of egocentric masculinity.  They also, on these violent occasions, blurred the distinctions between the everyday capabilities of men and women."

Ornaments (Headdress, Necklace, Tassels)

* Silverman 2001 p120
"Eastern Iatmul men ... masked their everyday identities during homicide raids and fighting with an array of facial and body ornamentation.  This adornment, like the magical spells, empowered warriors with an unnatural intensity of 'heat' that is attributed to powerful ego-alien spirits.  It also stunned the intended audience with feelings of fear and awe.  The aesthetics of warfare ornamentation enabled violence to be tied to the transformational qualities of ritual magic, paint, and ornaments rather than to individuals possessed of common rationality.  At the same time, this visual embellishment prevented the ghosts of the victims from recognizing the killers. ... A successful warrior, too, would sprinkle lime powder on his retreating tracks to make sure that the murdered person's ghost would not follow him back to Tambunum and exact revenge."


* Meyer 1995 v1 p221
"Parmi les armes qu'utilisent les Iatmul, il faut mentionner les propulseurs; le modèle utilitaire et sa version cérémonielle démontrent merveilleusement la maîtrise artistique des Iatmul.  Le guide central du propulseur fonctionnel est souvent sculptré sous la forme d'un crocodile mythologique."

* Meyer 1995 v1 p231 f244
"Das wai a kaino ist eine praktische Speerschleuder.  Man verwendet sie, um Macht, Stärke und Genauigkeit des Kriegerarms zu steigern.  Die geschnitzte Führung stellt das mythische Riesenkrokodil dar, das die Iatmul hervorgebracht hat."

* Stone 1934 p579
"The New Guinea throwers are pieces of bamboo cut away on one side and having large carved ornaments projecting from the top."




* Pelrine 1996 p134
"New Guinea daggers were primarily weapons for killing people, though in many areas they also had ritual roles.  In addition to being an obvious metaphor for strength, bones, as the only lasting remains of deceased people and animals, were believed to have a special connection with the supernatural world.  An Iatmul man used a bone dagger ... which was usually worn on the upper arm in a plaited arm band, for hand-to-hand fighting and for ritual.  Like most bone daggers, it was made from the leg of the cassowary, a large flightless bird, resembling an ostrich, that inhabits certain parts of the South Pacific.  In New Guinea, some cassowaries are almost as tall as a person, and they are known as dangerous, aggressive birds, making their bones especially appropriate weapons for men who admire those characteristics.
    "In addition, the cassowary is significant in the mythology of many Sepik peoples as the creator of people and institutions integral to their societies.  Douglas Newton, New Guinea scholar and the leading authority on bone daggers, points out allusions to the bird in many rituals, such as boys' initiations, in which 'men ... become cassowaries in ritual and, generation by generation, replay the cassowary's role in creation.'  As a ritual object, then, a cassowary-bone dagger carries associations that are at the core of the ethos of many Sepik societies."  [references omitted]

* Metropolitan Museum of Art 
"Daggers  Warriors in the Sepik region formerly employed a variety of weapons.  Most, such as spears, were intended to strike the enemy from a distance, butmen also carried daggers for use in close combat.  With blunt edges and sharp tips, daggers were exclusively stabbing weapons, often used to kill an enemy incapacitated by spears or arrows or, at times, in more stealthy acts of assassination.  Many daggers were supernaturally powerful objects that played important roles in male initiation and other ceremonies.  Daggers and dagger-like objects were worn as personal ornaments, and many ornate examples with blunt tips may have been ceremonial objects.  Daggers were fashioned primarily from the leg bones of cassowaries (large ostrich-like birds) but also, in rare instances, from the femurs of ancestors or enemies."

* Silverman 2001 p120
"Formerly, male leaders owned personified scepters called tshumbuk that allegedly flew under the cover of darkness and killed rivals by piercing their bodies with fatal magic.  As partible appendages of the male body, tshumbuk allowed men a supernatural means of safely bridging the dangerous interpersonal zones between descent groups and male opponents, albeit for nefarious purposes.  These aerial phalli, too, pacified adversaries with an image of sexual dominance.  The scepters performed the same function as warfare magic and adornment: they made it possible for men to kill without incurring the psychological toll of direct accountability." [references omitted]

​* Bateson1958 p60 n3
"A tshumbuk is a pointing stick, generally a shortened spear shaft. It is personified and the only specimen which I saw had a face worked in clay in the middle of the shaft."

* Wardwell 1994 p76
"Along the Sepik River, every man owned a dagger made of bone that was used for fighting, ritual, and prestige display.  They were valuable pieces of property, and the material itself was associated with supernatural power and was a metaphor for strenth.  Their shafts are decorated with engraved, incised, and sometimes relief carved designs.  Most are made of the tibia of cassowaries, but some are of human femur."​


* Benitez/Barbier eds. 2000 p186
"The shield of the 'convex' type ... is adorned with a human face that extends over most of the surface.  The eyes are surrounded by concentric oval outlines, while a lolling tongue emerges from a wide mouth.  Below the chin, two motifs resembling suns lie centrally between two facing symmetrical curvilinear patterns.  The human face is believed to be a spirit entrusted with frightening enemies and protecting the shield's owner."  [reference omitted]


* Geary ed. 2006 p72 (William E Teel w/ Christraud M Geary and Stéphanie Xatart, "Catalogue" p36-151)
​"The many peoples of the Sepik region accompany their singing and dancing during ceremonies and rituals with various musical instruments, heightening the dramatic effect of the performances.  Although slit gongs and sacred flutes were often kept from public view, men played hand drums during funerals, at the dedication of new clan houses, and when new canoes were launched."