Bowls

Asmat bowl

Asmat bowls are made softwood or  bark in the shape of a leaf sheaths of the sago palm or a large leaf.  However, by 1960, some artists began to carve bowls from hardwood.

The larger bowls are used to accommodate the daily meal of roasted sago dough. During festivals the larvae of the Capricorn beetle or sago worms are held in these containers.

Smaller bowls are almost exclusively used as an ink container. Either for the red pigment, which is obtained from red clay or for the white pigments obtained by crushing limestone. For the black pigment, the Asmat use black soot or a burnt piece of wood. Sago leaf bowls are made by folding the leaf lengthwise and decorating with a rattan edge with sewn tassels on the ends. Bark bowls are carved on the exterior side of the piece and painted mostly in relief.

Bowls made of solid soft wood are manufactured only in Central Asmat, the Casuarian coast to the south, and in Northwestern Asmat. The latter are attributed by their finer carving but are no less interesting of those dishes from the south.

Elongated bowls from the Pacific Northwest are reminiscent of small canoes with carved prows. While the more oval bowls from Central Asmat are more representative of the human body.

The outside of the bowl is often completely in high relief with the same traditional symbols that are to be found on the battle shields. Traditional bowls have an ancestral head that faces the interior of the bowl, so the faces couls be seen during the consumption of food.

When these bowls are not in use they are placed on a rack with the face turned away. In the 1960s, the artists reversed head position so that when the bowl is in a hanging position,the ancestor looks out at the owner.  The bowl for foreigners is more of a decorative piece, instead of a functional one.

Sago leaf bowls of bark or wood are still widespread among the Asmat, although they are partly being replaced by Western products that are more durable and made of plastic or aluminum.