Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Height: 188.000 cm
Collected by C.M.A
AOA Ethno 1975.Oc1.1
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Asmat, collected in AD
From Momogo village, Upper Pomatsj River, Papua Barat, New Guinea
The Asmat people live in the south-west area of West Papua or Irian Jaya, now a province of Indonesia, occupying the western half of the island of New Guinea. They are known especially for their carved wooden artefacts including shields, canoe prows and the tall bis poles associated with mortuary ceremonies. Ancestors played an important role in their culture, especially in pre-Christian times. Traditionally the Asmat were head hunters - a practice which did not cease until the early 1960s.
This is a complete example of the type of full-length mask worn for the jipae, a ceremony which takes place every few years. A number of people are selected from those who have died since the last ceremony. The people who will wear the named masks during the ceremony are chosen in advance: each will impersonate a particular deceased person and afterwards take on that person's responsibilities including raising their children. At the end of the jipae these ancestors leave the community to take their place in the world of the dead forever, having seen for themselves the well-being of the relatives they have left behind.
The bodice part of the mask is made from string, and the sleeves and the skirt are made from strips of the leaves of the sago palm. The wooden eyes are attached to basketry stalks.
G.A. Zegwaard, 'Jipae: festival of the mask costumes' in Asmat art: woodcarvings of Sou (Leiden, Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde and Periplus Editions, 1993)
J. Mack (ed.), Masks: the art of expression (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)
A.A. Gebrands (ed.), The Asmat of New Guinea: the j (New York, Museum of Primitive Art, 1967)