This wooden figure is from the lower Ramu River area in the Lower Sepik region of Papua New Guinea. An area of remarkable linguistic and cultural diversity, roughly 200 groups speaking distinct languages live in this region on the northern coast of mainland Papua New Guinea. This mid-20th century carving was likely a canoe paddle finial rendered in a style inspired by ancestor figures.
Art in the Lower Sepik region focuses on images of ancestors and spirits which bring protection and good luck. This figure perhaps represents both of those as an ancestor figure wearing a spirit mask. The pointed head shape represents a hair style from the early 20th century, where a man wore a decorated hat with his hair appearing out of the top of the cap. The carved patterns on the shoulders and chest of the figure represent initiation markings. Because spirits rather than ancestors are commonly represented with the elongated nose seen in this figure, it is possible that it is a representation of a mask worn by the ancestor.