Mbipokumbu: Culture, Art, and Mask Ceremonies


The land of Papua is inhabited by various traditional groups, one of which is the Asmat tribe. One of the largest tribes in the southern region of New Guinea is the Asmat. The Asmat tribe is large in terms of population, territory, and civilization in this instance. One of them is Mbipokumbu.

The ethnic groups in Papua have a mask culture as a medium of communication with their ancestors through traditional ceremonies. Their carving skills passed down from generation to generation, are closely related to wood sculpture arts, which are also very sacred.

Therefore, a mask is not just a handicraft for most ethnic groups in Papua but also a complement to cultural events.

What is Mbipokumbu?

What is Mbipokumbu

Mbipokumbu is a mask ceremony that is performed by the Asmat tribe. The Asmat tribe believes that the deceased spirits will agitate humans before entering heaven.

Therefore, while they were still alive, they constructed a statue and held a customary ceremony to save humanity and resurrect the deceased.

Masquerade Party

Masquerade Party

In a customary event known as a spiritual ceremony or masquerade party, the Asmat’s wear the Jipay mask to honor and converse with the spirits of their ancestors.

The Jipay mask is designed to cover the entire body except for their feet. In men’s homes, these masks were made in complete secrecy.

This customary celebration is called mamar atar bunmar pokbui. The purpose of this spirited party is to remember their beloved who has passed away. It takes about six to twelve months to be ready for this ceremony.

Some people believe in a legend behind the creation of these masks. For instance, the legend of Ndat Jumu and Manimar. The two of them are said to be orphaned brothers.

Because of hunger, they often frightened villagers with scary masks. The goal is to obtain sago from the terrified people.

One day, the actions of Jumu and Manimar became known to the people. But the village elder actually had mercy on him.

And since then, Ndat Jumu and Manimar have received help from villagers. Their masks have been preserved from generation to generation.

The Asmat Conviction System

The Asmat people believe they are gods’ children who came from the underworld. The gods descended to earth and landed in the mountains.

They then embarked on an adventure that included many challenges as they traveled along the river until they reached where the Asmat tribe currently resides.

Fuumeripitsy, one of the known gods, is regarded as the Asmat tribe’s ancestor in Flamingo Bay.

The Asmat people have faith in many different spirits, which can be broken down into three categories:

  • Dambin-ow is the name given to the evil ancestral spirits who perished as a result of that person’s absurd death.
  • Yi-ow is the good spirit of the ancestor.
  • Osbopan is the evil spirit of the ancestor.

The Asmat people also recognize various religious practices, such as carving masks, shields, or statues, to connect with the spirits of their ancestors.

Typically, making these items is energized by a feast, songs, dances, and a demonstration of the God Fuumeripitsy’s adventures through movement and dialogue.

Art with Religious Nuances of the Asmat Tribe

Art that honors ancestral spirits or is used in religious ceremonies, such as

Mbis is the construction of ancestral statues or mbis poles; Yew’s house was built and opened in Yentpojmbu; Tsyembu is the kickoff of a mortar boat; A shield ceremony which is called yamasy; and a mask-wearing ceremony which is already mentioned above Mbipokumbu.