New Guinea Carved Figures

New Guinea Carved Figures are some of the most valuable and sort after pieces of tribal art. There are numerous different New Guinea Carved Figures types, which vary depending on the region they come from.


This article helps to visually show the main types of PNG Carved Figures. It should help the reader identify which region their figure comes from.


The best known New Guinea Carved Figures come from the Sepik River but there are numerous different types of sculpture throughout New Guinea. Sepik Sculpture has so many variations that most of these styles are covered in a separate article.


I Buy Old New Guinea Carved Figures and Oceanic Art if you have one to sell please contact me. If you just want to know what your PNG Carved Figure might be worth please send me an image. I would love to see it.



New Guinea Carved Figures General

You would need a book to cover all the different types of PNG art so this article covers the figures. Other Articles cover bowls, headrests, and masks

New Guinea Carved Figures normally represented gods deities or ancestral heroes. They were sometimes made free standing but are also often found as part of a larger object like the top of a house pole.

PNG Carved Figures vary in size from very small charms hidden on your person to monumental sizes. Most figures have a cult/religious purpose and are full of energy and life.

In New Guinea, it is only men who are supposed to see these carvings. Women and uninitiated male children are Taboo to go near structures containing them.

The following is a visual guide on types of New Guinea Carved Figures but due to the huge variety throughout the country, it is far from inclusive. It is probably better to think of this article as a brief introduction to this fascinating group of oceanic art forms. If you want more detailed information about a particular piece please feel free to contact me.

New Guinea Carved Figures by Area

Papuan Gulf Figures


There are several different types of PNG carving that come from the Papuan Gulf.


Imuni Figures are three dimensional and often carved from mangrove wood. Part of the charm is that the carver uses the natural woods shape when carving.


Flat figures from the Papuan Gulf are Bioma and older ones tend to have more fluid forms and often have a pierced nose.

Hohoa boards are often mistaken for shields. Even though they are flat they are actual figures that represent ancestral heroes. Nearly all have concentric circles for eyes. Old examples have raised noses and sometimes forehead.


Skull racks are very rare. They were to hang the skulls of dead enemies. They come in different styles but all have somewhere to hang skulls from.

Hohoa boards are often mistaken for shields. Even though they are flat they are actual figures that represent ancestral heroes. Nearly all have concentric circles for eyes. old examples have raised noses and sometimes forehead.


Skull racks are very rare. They were to hang the skulls of dead enemies. They come in different styles but all have somewhere to hang skulls from.



Turama River Carvings


Figures from Turama River are rare but tend to be mildly triangular in cross-section. They normally have tear shapes around the eyes and designs on the stomachs.



Turama also has skull racks but they are very rare and used for hanging skulls of hunting trophies and not human skulls.

Gogodala Figures


Papua New Guinea carving from the Gogodala are made from softwoods and often have small red seeds around the eyes. They typically have a conical hair coiffure and are brightly painted.

Fly River figures


PNG Carving from the Fly River is extremely rare and most have early collection dates.

Large figures made for mourning ceremonies are some of the most powerful of all New Guinea art.

Smaller personal charms tend to be flat and mostly come from Kiwai Island.



Massim Figures

The Massim do some of the most refined Carving in Papua New Guinea.


Massim Figures are rarely free standing e and the majority are attached to the end of a lime stick or canoe part.


They are usually made from ebony or very dense hardwoods. The designs are very precisely carved and with a refined almost Polynesian finish.






Four examples of Figures on the top of Lime Spatulas

Admiralty island Figure


Admiralty Island figures come from Manus Island and they are usually predominantly dark red in color. They do come free standing but can also be on the end of poles and native ladders.

They are rare and highly collectible


 Malangan Sculptures

Malangan Figures come in a huge variety of styles but are all carved from a fairly soft wood. Typically they intensely painted in designs of Red white and black. They sometimes also have a small area of blue or yellow. The eyes made of a distinctive shell. Malangan come from the northern Regions of New Ireland


They are the only figures from new guinea that are sometimes made from more than one piece of wood. traditionally this form of tribal art was burnt after use.


Malangan culture also produced fantastic varieties of masks.

Middle Ramu River Figures


Two types of figure come from the Middle Ramu River,


The first comes from Rommekun and has distinctive hooks on the figures face.


The second from Kominimu have a unique eye shape. The eyes are almost always a semi diamond shape taller than they are wide.

Tolai Figures

Papua New Guinea carving made by the Tolai are either made from wood or chalkstone.

They are rare and early examples were predominantly white with some red or Ricketts blue.

Sulka Figures

Sulka Figures are extremely rare. They are normally part of large woven masks or attached to large masks.


They have a distinctive pink or faded pink pigment. Wooden figures are made of a very light soft wood.

Huon Gulf Figure

Figures from the Huon Gulf and Tami Island tend to be very cubistic and often have the shoulders at the top of the head. They are sometimes found free standing but more often as part of a bowl or a headrest.

Bougainville Figures



PNG Carving from Buka and Bougainville are Solomons Islands Art. Even though these islands are politically a part of Papua New Guinea, artistically they are from the Solomon Islands


PNG Carving Sepik River


The Sepik River is one of the greatest art producing areas in the world. There is such a variety of Sepik Figures and styles that it needs its own article.

PNG Carved Figures

This is just some examples, so I hope you can appreciate the vast variety of New Guinea Carved Figures. New Guinea is probably the most prolific figure-producing region of the World after Africa. As South Pacific Art, they are extremely expressive and come in a vast variety of sizes forms and functions. It is a great pity that the majority of people who visit New guinea only get to see the modern tribal art produced for sale to tourists. They often miss the fantastic variety of other figures this diverse country has to offer.

If you enjoyed this article you may also enjoy my article on Aboriginal sculpture.

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