Carved Coconut Shell Penis Cover
Upper Sepik, New Guinea
late 19th century
This penis cover or sheath comprises a small, carved, elongated coconut shell; and a woven rattan and coconut bark shaft painted with tar and decorated with two rows of filed cowrie shells.
The coconut shell is elaborately carved with typically Sepik-type motifs: oval shapes and horizontal striations. It comes to a point beneath which there is a drilled aperture.
A related cover in the Barbier-Mueller Collection is illustrated in Peltier & Morin (2007, p. 309)
According to Peltier & Moran (p. 438) penis sheaths of coconut shell were reserved for men of the highest level of initiation,
komaptam, and perhaps were worn in the past only by successful headhunters.
The example here has excellent patina and signs of age and use. The surface of the coconut has a shiny lustre from handling and wear. The rattan and cowrie shells also have a fine patina. There is a small, old hole to the underside of the coconut shell.
Peltier, P. & F. Morin, Shadows of New Guinea: Art from the Great Island of Oceania in the Barbier-Mueller Collections, Somogy, 2007.Provenance:
private collection, Guernsey.
Inventory no.: 2934