Almost resembling a funky dancer expressing himself in the light of the disco ball, perplexed and surprised by his own moves, we were amused to learn that this little fella is actually connected to the afterlife of the Enga people of Papua New Guinea in Oceania. His name is Yupini.
Collected by Jens Bjerre in 1961, Yupini is said to be the physical manifestation of the central ancestral spirit of a given village, a figure feared and respected for his control over the local environment. Natural phenomena such as earthquakes, thunder, crop failure, landslides and epidemics of disease are regarded as signs of Yupini’s anger, hunger or restlessness, and to restore his happiness, the figure is not shy in his luxurious demands. For him to keep natural disasters at bay, Yupini likes to indulge in the likes of human pleasures, such as fat and meat from the best slaughtered pigs – and also, he enjoys being provided with a so-called “female stone” with a hole in the middle during night-time. No wonder he is dancing!
Jens Bjerre experienced Yupini as surrounded by a great sense of secrecy, and recalls being regarded as the first white man to ever see the mystical figure, otherwise taboo for women and children of the village as well. Only the medicine men knew about the construction of Yupini, his whereabouts as well as the specifics of the rituals surrounding the worship of him, and as such only the most powerful were to interact directly with Yupini.
How Jens Bjerre managed to convince Yupini to accompany him on a trip back to the ethnographic collections of Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, we are not exactly sure. But we know it involved providing the local medicine man with enough pigs for him to be able to afford a new wife.
You can visit Yupini in the exhibition “The Lives of the Dead” at Moesgaard Museum.
// Ciara Coogan
Photo: © 2014 Jacob Due, Photo/Media Department of Moesgaard Museum.
Byline portrait: © 2015 Line Beck, lbmfotografi.wix.com