Tamate headdress

From Banks Islands, Vanuatu, south-western Pacific Ocean
Mid-19th century AD

This tamate headdress is used in a complex system of men's rituals concerned with the world of the dead breaking into the world of the living. The headdresses and masks used in the tamate rituals are made with specific characteristics (somewhat like uniforms). An individual has to purchase the right to make them, or to wear them and their associated body decorations. Tamate headdresses are made by paid specialists, and all the details of their making are secret. There are about sixty tamate, classified in a hierarchy of different categories. Some have higher status than others, and some are more closely linked to the world of the dead, so that they arouse awe and fear in those who see them. All tamate are made for a specific ceremony, and generally destroyed afterwards. They are built on a frame made of split bamboo, pandanus root or dried vine, and are covered with coconut palm spathe and various leaves, before being coated with a lacquer (derived from the nut Canarium sp) and mixed with various vegetable or mineral pigments.

Tamate are still made and used in the Banks Islands today, although the system of rituals with which they are associated has lost much of its power and importance.

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More information


B. Vienne, 'Masked faces from the country of the dead' in Arts of Vanuatu (Australia, Crawford House Publishing, 1996), **page span?**


Height: 12.000 inches

Museum number

AOA Ethno +1305


Gift of Baron Anatole von Hugel (1881)


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