THE MELPA OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA 2
Part 1 of this article covered the men of the Melpa tribe. This follow-up article covers the women.
The women would accompany the men to the festivals and would support them in their performances. The women would also be adorned, generally in red paint. Their headdress would generally mirror that of the men. Typically at a moka (gift-exchange ceremony), there would be groups of donors and recipients recognisable by differences in headdress display.
Typically the donor would have a more lavish display, such as a koi wal set, when compared to the recipient. If the most prestigious koi wal sets are not available, the women spouses might substitute with an alternative display of eagle feathers, set against red and other white feathers, stacked high to announce their status as donors. Other women relatives would act as helpers, and would have a small display, consisting of a circlet of small red feathers.
The schematic drawings show some typical Melpa women divided into donors, recipients and helpers. Note that the typical face paint is a red base, with blue/white lines drawn around the eyes and radiating from them. Younger women generally don’t have these lines and are instead shown with patches on the cheeks. The schematics also contrast some typical Mendi women, with their red faces and yellow markings.
The women do not wear wigs. Occasionally a head net is used to build up the headdress. Animal furs and shells may also be used.
Schematics of Melpa and Mendi women. Melpa women have bright red face paint with blue/white markings while Mendi women have bright red face paint and yellow markings. Generally, the towering headdresses identify the donors and the lesser headdresses are recipients. The Mendi women are wearing rolled feather tower Koi wal sets.
Creating the Figure
This is a realistic and completely unique figure made from epoxy putty. Real feathers cut down to size were used for the red Ranggania plumage. Artificial leaves, cut down and painted were used to represent Eagle feathers. For vegetation, dried flowers and brass-etched foliage were used.
Model of a Melpa donor’s wife with the towering headdress cooling off in a stream. Trimmed red feathers were used to depict Ranggania plumes. Her nose is pierced with the Nassa shell and she wears a large shell necklace to display her wealth. Her body is shiny as she is covered with pig grease.