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Woven Mask Abelam People East Sepik River Province Papua New Guinea

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Collection No. TB-2288
Size 55cm x 50cm
Woven Mask Abelam People East Sepik River Province Papua New Guinea
Woven Mask Abelam People East Sepik River Province Papua New Guinea

This old and used ceremonially woven and ochre painted Mask is from the Abelam peoples of the Prince Alexander Mountains in the Sepik region of northeast Papua New Guinea. The Abelam people create several types of basketry masks. They include the type seen here, known in the Abelam language as baba tagwa, which is worn over the head like a helmet, as well as the better known Yam Masks used to decorate the gigantic long yams grown and exchanged competitively by Abelam men. Among the Abelam, baba tagwa masks are associated with the male initiation cycle, in which they are worn by men clad in shaggy costumes made from strips of leaves. During certain ceremonies, these imposing masked figures serve as guards. Brandishing lengths of bamboo or other weapons, the baba tagwa drive off women, children, and uninitiated men, who are not permitted to witness the secret initiation rites.  Dating from the 1950’s or earlier.

This is one of the finest baba tagwa that I have ever owned in 35 years of collecting.

One of the major focuses of ceremonial life among the Abelam people of northeast New Guinea is the competitive growth and exchange of long yams. The Abelam cultivate two distinct categories of yams—a small variety used as ordinary food and long yams, massive tubers that can be as much as twelve feet long. A man’s social status is determined largely by his success in growing long yams. Each man has a permanent exchange partner to whom he ceremonially presents his largest yams
following the annual harvest, later receiving those of his rival in return. Men who are consistently able to give their partners longer yams than they receive gain great prestige. Lavishly adorned for the presentation ceremony, the finest long yams are essentially transformed into human images, decorated in the manner of men in full ceremonial regalia. The “heads” of the enormous tubers are adorned with specially made yam masks such as this one, which are made exclusively for yams and are never worn by human

Provenance:  The Elizabeth Pryce Collection Sydney


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