Production date
May 1974
Papua New Guinea
East New Britain
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Object detail

Mask made of tapa or bark cloth and stretched over a rattan framework. Designs of black and red are painted onto the tapa, linked to various animals and plants. The most distinctive feature of the kavat masks are the large, round ‘eyes’ and a dangling or bent appendage protruding below the mouth.
CH classification INDIGENOUS CULTURES Melanesian & South Sea Islander mask
Production date
May 1974
H1050 x W658 mm
Media/Materials description
Bark cloth, pigment, rattan
History and use
Previously adorned to inaugurate initiation ceremonies, Kavat masks are now also worn to commemorate Christian holidays, the National Holiday or to celebrate the completion of community building projects. Usually performed during the evening, the bodies of the dancers are blackened, penis coverings adorned and puttees are wound around their calves and whitened with lime.

During the dance, the appropriate spirit is summoned by the rhythmic beating of bamboo and the sound of chanting. The spirit is introduced as the dancers emerge one by one from the bush. Such spirits, though dangerous, are perceived as ‘guests’, to spend a night in the village to propitiate them so that they may then be driven off.

Following the masked festivities, the dancers are then dismissed from the dance arena by special songs and the dance ground is ritually cleansed. The masks, with some exceptions, are then torn up when their dancers have taken leave.
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