TITLE: Asmat Bi Mask
TYPE: face mask
COUNTRY: Indonesia
SUBREGION: Papua Province
ETHNICITY: Melanesian (Asmat)
DESCRIPTION: Bi (Orphan) Mask
MAKER: Unknown
FUNCTION: funeral; spirit invocation
AGE: ca. 1980s
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).