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    Kankanay or Bontoc Carved Wooden House-God Figure (Galgalawa-en)

    Bontoc or Kankanay people, Luzon, northern Philippines
    19th century

    height: approximately 40cm, width: 13.2cm, depth: 15cm, weight: 2,813g



    French art market

    – scroll down to see further images –

    This male figure, finely carved from a single piece of tropical hardwood, sits on his haunches on a rounded platform, with arms crossed in what might be a mortuary position. He has prominent eyes, an aquiline nose, and an elongated triangular motif that runs down the back from the back of the head. The ears are prominent and pieced to allow actual earrings to be worn.

    Figures such as these were carved whenever a new house was built. They were present whenever the new fire in the hearth for the preparation of food was lit, and later were kept in the house as protective house-god figures, consecrated to watch over domestic activities (Moltzau Anderson, 2010, p, 95).

    These are similar to, but not the same, as the bulul figures of the nearby Ifugao. They developed glossy patinas, perhaps they were regularly rubbed with a mixture of cooking fat and charcoal from the hearth. But they did not develop the encrusted patinas that bulul figures developed through being rubbed with offerings of chicken and other animal blood.

    The example here is particularly well carved and proportioned. It has a superb, glossy patina.


    Afable, P., et al, Philippines: an Archipelago of Exchange, ACTES SUD/ Musee du Quai Branly, 2013.

    Casal, G. et alThe People and Art of the Philippines, UCLA Museum of Cultural History, 1981.

    Kurer, M. & A. Maculangan, ‘Simple and Powerful: Expression in Cordillera Traditional Art’, in Arts of Asia, January-February 2017.

    Maxwell, R., Life, Death & Magic: 2000 Years of Southeast Asian Ancestral Art, National Gallery of Australia, 2010.

    Moltzau Anderson, E., In the Shape of Tradition: Indigenous Art of the Northern Philippines, C. Zwartenkot Art Books, 2010.

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