Mask - Malagan

Production date
Papua New Guinea
New Ire
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Object detail

Mask in a stylised interpretation of a male face, with wide gaping mouth.
Opercula set into the eye portion of mask, represent eyes.
Rattan framework is implemented for extended part of mask, excluding face.

Mask (with the exception of the face) is encircled with bark cloth, which hangs below mask to cover shoulders of wearer. Uncovered bark cloth is painted black, red and white.

Left side of mask is covered with vertically running plaited bush fibres. Held down by bush fibres which run horizontally across vertical fibres.

Right side of mask is encased in in lime; decorated with painted patterns of black, red, white and blue.

Colours: Black, red, white, blue.
Production date
Production place
H303mm x W209mm x L246mm
Media/Materials description
Alstonia villosa lime wood, lime, opercula from Turbo Petholatus, bush fibres, bark cloth
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 looks "just like a true man" (Gunn, 1997:60). Not simply in physical characteristics, but within a broader sense of culturally defined male capabilities (Clay, 1987:66).

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.
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