Dance staffs or temes nevinbur

Dance staffs used during initiation ceremonies of the Nevinbur, a secret society on Malekula.

The society is bound up with a complex mythology around a man, his two wives, and his mother-in-law, personified by life-size puppets with arms and legs (see de Keersmaeker, ill. 48) and their grandchildren, called temes (regarded as beings who were once mortals), represented as effigies on staffs, the temes nevinbur .

The whole drama consists of the spearing to death of the man and his two wives, the destruction of some of the old temes , the grandchildren (symbolic for the decomposition of dead bodies) and the construction of many new temes .

The ritual is about resurrection and is held when new initiates enter the society, a privilege purchased with tusker pigs, as with the nimangki -grades.

During the ceremony a fence is constructed behind which only members of the Nevinbur secret society may interact in the ritual. They dance around with the temes in such a way that spectators outside the fence will have the idea of a Punch and Judy show. The makers do not strive after resemblance to real persons but create caricatures with pronounced features, resulting in a rather comical effect. Despite this hilarious side, the Nevinbur ceremony is regarded as a serious and sacred act.

South Malekula: coconut, plant fibre, pigments, cobwebs, pig tusks and wood. End of twentieth century. Size without staff: large: 40 x 26 cm, small: 16 x 16 cm.

Originally collected by curators of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and passed on to a private collection.


Deacon, A. Bernard. Malekula. A Vanishing People in the new Hebrides. England, 1934.

Keersmaeker, Jean P.L. De. Richesse Oblige. Rang op Ambrym en Malekula (Vanuatu). Het nimangki-genootschap: bron van creativiteit, sociale vrede en statusverandering. Dissertatie, Universiteit Gent. 2003. link

Speiser, F. Ethnology of Vanuatu. An early twentieth-century study. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1996 (english edition of the original 1923 edition: Ethnographischen Materialen aus den Neuen Hebriden und den Banks Inseln, Springer Verlag, 1923 zie pl. xi xiv).

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