This gope (go-pay) board is a wooden ritual object made in the Papuan Gulf of New Guinea sometime around 1900. Its shape reminds one of a shield. In a way, the gope board is a shield. Its owners believed it held a spirit with the power to protect them from harm.
In New Guinea, harm might come in the form of tropical storms, tidal waves, or starvation. People believed they could influence nature with help from their ancestors’ spirits. They created objects like this gope board as homes for the spirits. Like tools, gope boards were made to be uselful, not for decoration.
The figures on this gope board represents an ancestor spirit. The head is far bigger than the body.The people of New Guinea believed a person’s spirit was located in the head. An image with a big head made a good “container” for the protective spirit. It was not important that the face be lifelike. This one is simply a pair of eyes, a nose, a mouth, and a beard. These shapes were enough to suggest the ancestor described in the words of the village elders.
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