Mask - Malagan

Production date
Papua New Guinea
New Ire
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Object detail

Vanis type malagan - Tatanua. Stylised interpretation of a male face, with wide gaping mouth.
Opercula set into the eye portion of mask, represent eyes. Five small red beads extend beneath bottom of right eye.
Rattan framework is implemented for extended part of mask, excluding face.

Centre crest of crushed bush fibres atop mask, represent hair.

Right side of mask is encased with lime; with small portion of black cloth in evidence. Beneath right side of crest, cloth runs along outside of lime.

Left side of mask is encased with black cloth. Portion of cloth is embedded with small sticks. Red cloth encircles stretch of black cloth.

Colours: black, red, white.
Production date
Production place
L489mm x W206mm x H470mm
Media/Materials description
Alstonia villosa lime wood, opercula from Turbo Petholatus, rattan, lime, plaited bush fibres, cloth, beads, small sticks.
History and use
The Vanis type Malagan,Tatanua is produced in the northern part of New Ireland and Tabar Island.

Early ethnographic accounts suggested that the word 'Tatanua' incorporated the local names or variants for the spirit 'tanua'; or the soul of the deceased individual.

The Tatanua mask does not represent an individual or his spirit, but the representation of a true man. Not simply in physical characteristics, but within a broader sense of culturally defined male capabilities.

An exclusively male ritual, the Tatanua's dance preparations take place within a sacred men's enclosure, away from the presence of women.

The mask is meant to contain much spiritual power, harnessed by its wearer during the length of the traditional 'Tatanua' dance, which is carried out towards the end of the Malagan ceremony.

The colours incorporated into the design represent certain actions. Red, made from crushed ochre - recalls the spirits of those who have died from violence. Black, from a pigment made from the crushed, heated insides of a nut - is associated with warfare. White, produced from heated, pulverised coral or limestone - an adjunct of numerous magical spells.

Malagan ceremonies are large, intricate traditional cultural events that take place in parts of New Ireland province in Papua New Guinea. The word malagan also refers to wooden carvings which are prepared for the ceremonies, and to an entire system of traditional culture.
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