Axambal by Ali EliasAxambal by Ali Elias
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Ali Elias

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Date: April 8, 2008

Location: Madina (also spelled Medina),
                 New Ireland, Papua New Guinea
Subject: Axambal by A. Elias
Speaker: Chief Bokawa Laisie, (BL) head of Momarba clan

Translator: Gertrude Lundeng, Momarba clan elder

Recording & Questions: Elaine Monds (EM) & Dan Lepsoe (DL)

BL: This carving is axambal. It represents all the malagans of Momarba, all the other carvings that were around it: bolxuam, bilisabai, onimo, narpala, and so forth [spellings uncertain for the last three names]. They all come from the axambal carving. The carving was carved by Ali Elias, a new carver trained by Michael Xomerang. He was told by Tamun Kosep, who has passed away, to carve this malagan. This malagan was only presented when the big malagan feast was hosted. So when it is time for the big feast, then we use this carving.

EM: So it could have been used again. It's been in storage. BL: Yes.
EM (pointing to top bird): Is this a hornbill?

BL: No, this is an eagle.

EM: And this one (indicating the fish just below the eagle)?

BL: It's a fish.
EM: And the bird underneath is- a parrot?

BL: The sea eagle.

EM: And the fish below?

BL: Flying fish.

EM: And at the bottom?

BL: Crayfish.

EM: It was one of Tamun Kosep's family that he had it carved for?

BL: Yes. It's only used in the time of a feast. This is the property of the Momarba clan.

EM: So the carver doesn't necessarily belong to the same clan?
BL: No.

EM: Always a different clan, or might be?

BL: Might be.

DL: Is there anything else you'd like to say to the museum that will display this piece, and to the people who will see this piece in the museum?

BL: This will be the last of these carvings, because our elders who brought these things have passed away. Now they're all gone. And it will be our last now. We can show to the people. People will see and they will know that we have carved these carvings. They will be seen, they will be remembered.

A place like an art gallery will keep this for a long time. Because any other place around [gestures around him], the carvers just carve any sort of malagan, but this kind of malagan is different from the other kinds. This was told by Tamun and elders, he told the carver to carve it for us, this generation. If we keep this, knowledge of these things, and tell the next carver to carve it, it's all right, but if not, it's gone.

GL: The carving represents the clan. So he [Bokawa Laisie] has the right, whether he brings it to the other clans, he has the right, unless he has the customary obligations to be made, and then it can be transferred.

EM: So, with this generation and the next generation and the next generation, will it not be possible to have your lives honoured with malagans too?

BL: We'll have it, but it will not be the same as our ancestors, like the older generations used to have it.

EM: Do you know when this one was carved, what year?
BL: Early 2000s, but this one [gestures at Xomerang's carving] was 1993.

DL: You said when your lives are honoured with malagan, it will not be the same. What do you mean by that?

BL: I mean that others who carve these things today, they use paint they bought from stores, things like that. Some sort of paintings we see are not like this, some writings are not exactly the writings they used to paint the malagans with. Because they use special writings [indicating these pieces], not just paint just to paint, no, they use writing. Every colour they write here is a word- a word or a saying.

EM: It's hard for us to understand exactly how it works.

BL: The malagan is carved in steps. Certain steps are taken during a period of time, and there are special feasts concerning the steps. So it takes time until the completion of it. The different forms you see represent different things the clan owns and has the rights to.

EM (indicating shell worn by figure in Xomerang's carving): This is a kapkap shell, isn't it?

BL: Yes. That represents the chief. It belongs to the Momarba clan. We have different kapkaps representing the different clans.


IMPORTANT NOTE: Following the wishes of the Momarba clan (see the show's introduction), this piece can only be sold to a major public arts institution, or to a private buyer purchasing it for an institution (either directly or for a collection willed to an institution). The clan wants this important part of their heritage seen as well as preserved. Contact us for more information.

Artwork Information

Location Papua New Guinea
Region Papua New Guinea
Artist Ali Elias
NWC Nation N/A
Date Created circa 2000
Dimensions 45" x 27.5" x 16"
Materials & Edition Wood (probably Alstonia sp.), snail shell (Turbo petholatus), natural pigments (probably including lime, charcoal, and earth ochres)

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