The Composition of Kwermin Design



This paper is about designs placed on house-boards, shields and drums in the Min cultural sphere of Papua New Guinea. It is argued that the shields and drums can be understood as extensions of the Taro Mother ritual house built in the last of seven male initiation rituals performed in the area. The drum grows taro like the ritual house grows men, the shield attracts ancestral support to warriors like the façade of the ritual house attracts ancestral benevolence to the novices inside. In order to accomplish this the objects, and importantly their designs, are imbued with qualities considered agreeable to the ancestral spirits. It is suggested that as much as these qualities can be understood as part of the visual aspect of the designs, they are also, and importantly so, inherent in the substances used in their composition.