TITLE: Asmat Det
TYPE: body mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Irian Jaya, Papua Province
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Asmat)
DESCRIPTION: Det Body Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Feast
FUNCTION: funeral; spirit invocation
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: plant fiber
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigment; wood; animal horn; sago leaves

The Asmat people are a Melanesian ethnic group inhabiting the Papua Province of Indonesia, along the southwestern coast. They are thought to number around 70,000 individuals. The Asmat celebrate a periodic feast, a series of rituals culminating when dead ancestors, personified by performers wearing full-length body masks like this one (Det), return to visit the village.

The rites involve two types of masks. The first, a single conical mask (Bi) depicting a legendary orphan and entertains the village with comical antics.  The second type of mask, the Det, portrays the dead ancestor. Each mask of this type represents a specific individual, such as a deceased family member or illustrious ancestor.  At the climax of the ceremony, the masked performers representing the dead emerge from the forest and tour the village, where they are offered food and hospitality. They eventually arrive in front of the men’s ceremonial house, where the dead and the living join in a dance, which continues long into the night. The following morning the dead, now properly fed and entertained or frightened by threats of violence, depart for the realm of the ancestors (Safan).

Normally, this mask would have a long fringe of dried sago leaves along the sleeves and skirt, but most of this has been lost with time.

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TITLE: Lewa Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: Schouten Islands
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Austronesian)
DESCRIPTION: Lewa Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker on Vokeo Island
CEREMONY:
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments

The Schouten Islands are a group of six small volcanic islands in the province of East Sepik in Papua New Guinea.  Male initiation ceremonies celebrate the passage of boys to adulthood and teach them the obligations and skills they will need to survive. This type of mask is know as a lewa and represents a male masked spirit. The carving from the ears to the nose likely represents facial decoration with bone or shell, suggesting the mask was linked to the son of a tribal elder or chief. The mask has also been decorated with a ochre and white clay. The lewa spirit enforces prohibitions against eating certain crops that enable ritual leaders to stockpile food to be used later during important ceremonies and festivals.

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TITLE: Asmat Jiwawoka Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Irian Jaya, Papua Province
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Asmat)
DESCRIPTION: Jiwawoka Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Jiwawoka Ceremony
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Secret Society
AGE: 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: plant fiber
OTHER MATERIALS: wood; natural pigments; animal bone; seeds

The Asmat people are a Melanesian ethnic group inhabiting the Papua Province of Indonesia, along the southwestern coast. They are thought to number around 70,000 individuals. Jiwawoka (sometimes written Jinokas) is an Asmat tradition in which masked dancers of a secret society initiate young men into adulthood.

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TITLE: Sumba Island Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Less Sunda Islands (Sumba Island)
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Sumbese)
DESCRIPTION: Ancestor Mask
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: War Preparation (?)
AGE: ca. 1950s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: boar bristles; animal teeth

The Sumbese people of Sumba Island are a Melanesian-Austronesian people who continue to practice the Marapu animistic religion. This mask probably represents an ancestor of the maker and probably served the purpose of war preparation. However, very little is known about masking traditions in this region.

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TITLE: Asmat Bi Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Papua Province
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Asmat)
DESCRIPTION: Bi (Orphan) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Feast
FUNCTION: funeral; spirit invocation
AGE: ca. 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wicker
OTHER MATERIALS: rattan; sago leaf fiber; natural pigments

The Asmat people are a Melanesian ethnic group inhabiting the Papua Province of Indonesia, along the southwestern coast. They are thought to number around 70,000 individuals.  The Asmat celebrate a periodic feast, a series of rituals culminating when dead ancestors, personified by performers wearing full-length body masks like this one (Det), return to visit the village.

The rites involve two types of masks. The first is this one, a single conical mask depicting a legendary orphan (Bi), appears to entertain the audience with comical antics. The second type of mask, the Det, portrays the dead ancestor. At the climax of the ceremony, the masked performers representing the dead emerge from the forest and tour the village, where they are offered food and hospitality. They eventually arrive in front of the men’s ceremonial house, where the dead and the living join in a dance, which continues long into the night. The following morning the dead, now properly fed and entertained or frightened by threats of violence, return to the realm of their ancestors (Safan).

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TITLE: Maluku Islands Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Maluku Islands
ETHNICITY: Melanesian
DESCRIPTION: Unknown Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Unknown
AGE: late 20th century
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: N/A

The Maluku (formerly Molucca) Islands are an archipelago of over one thousand islands inhabited by mixed Melanesian and Austronesian peoples. Since Indonesian independence and failed attempts to form various independent republics, they have formed two provinces of the Republic of Indonesia.  Very little is known about the masked ceremonies of the Maluku Islands or of this mask in particular.

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TITLE: Tami Island Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: Siassi Island
ETHNICITY: Tami (Melanesian)
DESCRIPTION: Tago Mask
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1990
MAIN MATERIAL: sago palm tapa cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: rattan; wood; berry and tree sap pigments; feathers

The Tami people inhabit a small collection of islands in Papua New Guinea’s Morobe Province. They number fewer than one thousand individuals today. The Tami masquerade is part of the adult initiation (circumcision) ritual for boys and men. The tago simultaneously represents a spirit of a dead ancestor and the more recently, spirit of kani, a dragonlike monster that eats children and is invisible to women.

Tago masks are kept in bush huts off limits to women and children, who are forbidden to see tago masks and performance on some islands. On others, such as Siassi, women do attend the performance. In practice, women on all the islands all have seen tago performances and merely feign ignorance for form’s sake.

Each tago mask belongs to a family and has an identifiable design. They are acquired through marriage from the maternal uncle and passed down to the children.

The tago initiation ceremony was formerly performed every ten or twelve years, accompanied by the loud noise of a bullroarer (a carved piece of wood or rattan swung in circles on a string to make loud wind sounds). During that time, a taboo was placed on coconuts for one year and war was banned. More recently, it has been performed every two decades.

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TITLE: Iatmul Sevi Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: Middle Sepik River Region
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Iatmul)
DESCRIPTION: Sevi Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Protection; Spirit Invocation
AGE: 1980s
MAIN MATERIAL: wood
OTHER MATERIALS: wicker; pigment; plant fiber

Sevi masks like this one may be worn in dances, but they are generally kept on display in the men’s Tambaran House to attract protective spirits.  Masks often refer to a clan totem such as crocodile (as here) or eagle. Sevi masks have extended tongues as a sign of aggression towards enemies of the clan.

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TITLE: Malagan Tatanua
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: New Ireland
ETHNICITY: Melanesian
DESCRIPTION: Tatanua Mask
MAKER: Unknown maker in Libba Village
CEREMONY: Malagan Ceremony
AGE: 2006
MAIN MATERIAL: Alstonia wood
OTHER MATERIALS: wool; plant fibers; tapa cloth; cowrie shells; pigment

New Ireland is a large island belonging to Papua New Guinea and inhabited by Melanesian peoples. The inhabitants of New Ireland organize a Malagan Ceremony upon the death of a tribe member to honor his or her memory and ease the transition of his or her soul to the spirit world. The family members of the deceased fashion the masks to resemble the dead individual and to forge a link between that person and the spirit world into which he or she is passing. Only persons of high status may participate in the masked dance.

This specific mask was made and ritually used in Libba Village in 2006.

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TITLE: Abelam Bapamimi Mask
TYPE: mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: East Sepik River
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Abelam)
DESCRIPTION: Bapamimi (Yam) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Wapisaki
FUNCTION: Agriculture
AGE: ca. 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: woven plant fiber
OTHER MATERIALS: natural pigments

The Abelam people of the Sepik River area of Papua New Guinea use several types of masks, many of them intricately woven of plant fiber. The yam mask (bapamimi) is not worn by the tribe members, but instead is used to decorate giant yams after harvest during the yam festival (wapisaki). Abelam people assemble at a designated village and lines up the yams, which can reach up to three meters long and weigh over 50 kilograms. They decorate them with masks such as this one, flowers, and other regalia. Everyone then discusses the planting, harvesting, the shape and size, and other details of each yam, much in the same way that gardening aficionados in the Canada, Europe, and the United States compare their own vegetables and flowers at prize shows. The largest and best yams confer status on the grower.

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