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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TITLE: Baining Anguangi Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: East New Britain Islands
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Baining)
DESCRIPTION: Uramot Anguangi Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Night (Atut) Fire Dance
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: tapa cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: bamboo; vines; pigment from chewed roots and coconut husk ash

The Baining people live in eastern New Britain Island area known as the Gazelle Peninsula, in a mountainous tropical forest.  They are a Melanesian people closely akin to other groups in Papua New Guinea.  They traditionally live in small villages with dispersed political authority.  The Baining use their masks to unify the otherwise dispersed villagers, usually in celebrations of major events such as yam harvest, births, deaths, or adult initiation for both boys and girls.  Some dances are for the day time, mostly those centered around female tasks such as sowing, harvesting, and births.  Atut dances, also called fire dances because they’re performed around a bonfire, are held at night and center around male activities such as hunting.

The masks are mostly made of mulberry or breadfruit tree bark mashed and pounded into a cloth (“tapa cloth”) over bamboo frames.   This specific mask, the anguangi or atutki, is used in night dances by the Uramot group of Baining people. Unlike other Baining masks, the anguangi is usually retained in the house and not discarded after the ceremony.

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TITLE: Abelam Bapa Tagwa
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: East Sepik River, Maprik Area, Wosera
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Abelam)
DESCRIPTION: Bapa Tagwa
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Tambaran Society
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Agriculture; Purification; Secret Society; Spirit Invocation
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 bapa tagwa shown here is a helmet mask, with small eye holes to create a fierce, pig-like appearance. The masks are worn with shaggy leaf costumes by members of the Tambaran Secret Society during adult initiation (circumcision) rituals for boys to invoke nature spirits. The masqueraders guard the ceremony with bamboo or bone weapons to clear away evil spirits and deter women and children from witnessing the secret ritual. Before the ceremony, the bapa tagwa is painted bright orange. Such masks may also be used in yam harvests.

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TITLE: Baining Asaraigi Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Papua New Guinea
SUBREGION: East New Britain Islands
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Baining)
DESCRIPTION: Uramot Asaraigi Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Day Dance
FUNCTION: Adult Initiation; Agriculture; Celebration; Funeral; Spirit Invocation
AGE: ca. 1960s-1970s
MAIN MATERIAL: tapa cloth
OTHER MATERIALS: bamboo, vines; pigment from chewed roots and coconut husk ash

The Baining people live in eastern New Britain Island area known as the Gazelle Peninsula, in a mountainous tropical forest.  They are a Melanesian people closely akin to other groups in Papua New Guinea.  They traditionally live in small villages with dispersed political authority.  The Baining use their masks to unify the otherwise dispersed villagers, usually in celebrations of major events such as yam harvest, births, deaths, or adult initiation for both boys and girls.  Some dances are for the day time, mostly those centered around female tasks such as sowing, harvesting, and births.  Night dances center around male activities such as hunting.

The masks are mostly made of mulberry or breadfruit tree bark mashed and pounded into a cloth (“tapa cloth”) over bamboo frames.  Unlike most masking cultures, they make these masks specifically to be burned or discarded after the ceremony.  This specific mask, the asairigi, is used in day dances by the Uramot group of Baining people.  The black triangles represent tears of the spirit represented by the mask.  Day dance masks are made cooperatively by both men and women.

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TITLE: Rom Mask
TYPE: helmet mask
GENERAL REGION: Oceania
COUNTRY: Vanuatu
SUBREGION: Ambrym Island
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Ni-Vanuatu)
DESCRIPTION: Rom Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Rom Kon
PURPOSE: secret society; social control; spirit invocation; status
AGE: ca. 2000
MAIN MATERIAL: palm spathe
OTHER MATERIALS: bamboo, coconut fiber, hemp, leaves, feathers, pigment

The Rom Kon ceremony is performed by male secret society members to the beat of drums and seed shakers.  The remainder of the costume is composed of dried banana leaves, and each Rom dancer holds a wooden carving that symbolically represents a weapon.  The Rom dancers themselves represent evil spirits who form a wide circle filled by Namba dancers.  The participants sing songs and chant stories as they dance.  Gradually the pace builds until the ceremony reaches a loud and feverish pitch, then ends.

The right to make or wear a sacred mask carries high costs in Ambrym society.  Rom masks invoke the spirit of ancestors (generally the grandfather) and are important agents of social control.  The masks and costumes must be destroyed or disposed of after a dance to ensure the spirit does not haunt the owner.  The dances only occur between July and September, or at special celebrations, such as for the for the appointment of a chief.

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