Kulap Figure

Artist: Unknown
Culture/People: New Ireland
Place: Melanesia
Media: Limestone or chalk with pigment
Dims: 19.5 x 4.25 x 4 in. (49.5 x 10.7 x 10.1 cm)
Date: c. 1830
RTC No: OC0052
Gift of Ralph T. Coe, 2011


Kulap figures were unique to southern New Ireland. Traditionally, upon the passing of a family member, a male relative would journey to the limestone quarries in the Rossel Mountains to obtain a Kulap, choosing between male and female variants based on the deceased’s gender. Upon their return, the figure would be placed within a building, enclosed within a shrine. These figures, often carved in stylized forms and painted white, were handled solely by designated individuals. Smaller chalk Kulap figures would be kept within households.

Serving as temporary homes for the spirits or souls of the departed, Kulap were believed to prevent them from wandering and causing harm to the living.

It was exhibited in 2013, The Ralph T. Coe Legacy ‘Instruments of Passion’ at El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe, NM.

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