Students have the opportunity to explore the importance of getting someone’s attention and listening through the Iatmul Culture Orator’s Stool. They will have fun learning how to use the “Quiet Coyote” technique and other attention getting methods, examining the details of the Orator’s Stool, and creating an “orator’s stool” of their own using found materials.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 50 minute lesson
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- respond to the “Quiet Coyote” technique for gathering their attention;
- explain the importance of being quiet and paying attention to others;
- describe the purpose and at least three visual details of the Iatmul Culture Orator’s Stool; and
- work in a group to create a work of art using found materials.
- Warm-up: Teach students the “Quiet Coyote” method of gaining attention. Press your two middle fingers to your thumb and raise the pointer and pinkie fingers, making a “coyote” and raise your hand in the air. Tell the students that when the coyote’s mouth is closed they need to be quiet; when it’s open they can talk. They should make one of their hands into a coyote and follow your lead with the coyote’s mouth open or closed. Have fun letting them talk and make noise when its mouth is open and quiet quickly and in unison when its mouth is closed.
- Talk about getting people’s attention.
- Ask students how the “quiet coyote” worked. Are there any other rituals or methods they, their friends, parents, and/or teachers use to get someone’s attention? Let them show you. (You may want to use the more fun methods during class)
- How do they make certain someone is listening if they have something to say?
- What if what someone has to say is really important?
- Is it hard to get people’s attention sometimes?
- Show students the stool. Talk about all of the effort that went into making the stool with the information found in the About the Art section. Working in groups of 3-4, have students hunt and find every possible detail they can in the Orator’s Stool. After they say they’ve found everything, ask them to find three more things.
- Share the purpose of the stool and how it was used. Answer any questions the students may have.
- Have students design an orator’s stool for the classroom. Assign small groups to work on different sections of the stool and then put it all together as a large group. (Note: You may want to take another class period to make a more intricate stool, but the 50 minutes should be sufficient for a basic model.) Talk in advance about materials they could use (recycled bottles, etc.)
- Make a cluster of leaves and grass out of rolled up and cut newspaper and demonstrate how the Orator’s Stool would be used. Use the creation on the class stool to model how speakers would hit the top of the stool when they made an important point. Debrief what it’s like to use the stool they made. Talk about why such a stool would have been significant in the Iatmul culture after experiencing the application of their own stool.
- Assorted clean found materials of different sizes (e.g. oatmeal containers, gallon milk bottles, bottle caps, etc.)
- A great source for found materials in Denver is Resource Area for Teaching
- Assorted pebbles, stones, pine cones, etc.
- One newspaper
- Air-dry clay or tile mastic
- Glue, scissors, and masking tape
- About the Art section on the Orator’s Stool
- One color copy of the stool for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
This object was made by a member of the Iatmul [YAHT-mool] cultural group from the Middle Sepik region of Papua New Guinea (part of Melanesia). The religious life of the Sepik River was dominated by men’s societies, and wood carving of this kind was done exclusively by men. The artist who created this Orator’s Stool began by cutting the shape out of a large piece of wood. He then used sharp objects like obsidian knives or rodents’ teeth to further shape the figure and to carve details. To decorate the figure, he attached raffia around its waist, wrists, and ankles. He used feathers and shells to ornament the head. It’s possible that the artist painted the figure with charcoal, lime, or ochre.
This sculpture would have been kept inside a special house called a Men’s House, where Iatmul ceremonial activities often take place. Typically, each Iatmul community or town contains a few of these buildings, which serve as the center of community and celebration. The buildings are both visually imposing, as well as socially and spiritually influential. Women and uninitiated men are not able to enter the house.
What Inspired It?
Every Iatmul community has its own ceremonial chair, similar to this one. This Orator’s Stool (also called a “speaking chair”) is not meant to be sat upon, but is used during village meetings, debates, and tribal ceremonies. During a discussion, the speaker stands next to the orator’s stool and hits the top of the stool with a cluster of leaves, sticks, and grass to validate important points in his argument. He also places leaves on the chair to confirm his statements. When the first speaker is finished and all the leaves lay on the chair, the next speaker can begin his address. After all of the speakers have stated their arguments, the village chief hits the chair a few more times and states a decision for all to follow. Orators also use these chairs to tell the community about the clan’s history and mythology while hitting the chair with a bundle of leaves to emphasize points.
The human figure is a common form in Sepik River art. As seen in this sculpture, figures were often given an elongated head and torso and short limbs. Special emphasis was placed on the head to show that it is the most important part of the body, where the spirit resides. The artist carved an elongated nose, possibly in imitation of a bird’s beak, and the nose is pierced with ornaments made of bone or boar’s tusk, just as the Iatmul people wear. The incised patterns on the chest and arms represent scarification patterns that would be seen on many Iatmul men. Scarification is part of a young man’s initiation into the men’s secret society and the scars are considered marks of beauty and status.
The Iatmul people believe that everything in the world is inhabited by a spirit. The figure represented here is the spirit Wagen [WAH-gen], a mythological giant in the form of a crocodile. Iatmul people believe that they were born from Wagen and that the world rests upon his back. The figure attached to the stool serves as a temporary dwelling for the spirit who presides over meetings and ensures that each speaker is truthful.
Young Iatmul men go through a series of rites, scarification, and seclusion as part of their initiation into the men’s secret society. Their bodies are incised with sharp blades, leaving scars that look like the teeth marks of a crocodile.
The large head emphasizes that it is the most important part of the body. The artist used most of the decorative materials—including shells, feathers, and bone—on the head.
Many Iatmul people wear nose ornaments similar to those on this sculpture.
Figures like this one often have curved eyebrows that create a heart-shaped face.
Cowry shells outline the figure’s face and decorate the nose. The artist also used shells to create large circular eyes.
The artist may have used charcoal to draw the dark lines around the face, nose, and mouth. He also created designs on the figure’s forehead and drew circles around the eyes and tusks.
The figure’s legs are quite short when compared to the large head. Its knees are bent and mirror the angle of the stool’s legs.