Masks have been used by all cultures from ancient times until today. The earliest recorded masks are 11 stone masks, said to have been discovered in the Judean desert and hills near Jerusalem, they date back 9,000 years & offer a rare glimpse at some of civilization’s first communal rituals.
In New Guinea and especially in the Sepik River area people’s ceremonial & spiritual life revolves around Masks, usually, dance masks worn by a select person but also large masks made solely to decorate the gables or windows of the monumental Ceremonial Haus Tambaran or Men’s Ceremonial House where all the important rituals & initiations take place and where scared objects like masks are stored and venerated.
Small masks used as personal amulets are worn or kept in small bags as protection and are also used for hunting magic or love magic & for controlling the weather.
In the Sepik old masks often represents a powerful Brag Spirit, masks like this example were only danced on rare occasions, including the initiation of young males and at times of scarce food and other village hardship. Each individual mask was known by a unique name and was danced by an initiated male concealed in a plant fibre costume covering the whole body of the dancer.
In the early 20th Century across the Sepik River area spectacular ceremonial houses were found in almost every village. They are known as ‘Haus Tambaran’ in New Guinea pidgin English. These amazing ceremonial houses embody the paramount female ancestor whose enormous face appears on the gable mask and whose name is given to the house. Masks also peer out at the village through windows on the sides of Haus Tambaran.
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