Mask headdress

From Malakula Island, Vanuatu
Late 19th / early 20th century AD

This headdress comes from the southern part of the island of Malakula, one of the group of islands in the south-western Pacific Ocean that form Vanuatu. It is worn by men in dances that form part of a cycle of rituals which are linked to the achievement of status and power within the community. The dances are also linked to the world of the spirits, a parallel world which accessible to people in a number of ways. The seated figure surmounting the mask represents a character from one of the key histories connected with the rites. The rituals are marked by the control of knowledge: by participating in them men gain greater and greater access to specialized information.

Today rituals such as these are once again growing in importance in southern Malakula, after a period when they were much frowned upon within the community. Headdresses such as this are again being made.

This example is constructed on a bamboo frame wrapped with a leaf covering, which is then plastered with a vegetal paste (the whole resembling papier mâché), and subsequently painted. The boars' tusks inserted in the figure's mouth are markers of status and significance.

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Length: 55.000 inches

Museum number

AOA 1914.6-24.1


Gift of Sir Henry Evans James


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