Production date
Papua New Guinea
East New Britain
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Object detail

A Mask made of bark cloth stretched on rattan framework. Designs painted in red and black, depicting human facial features.
CH classification INDIGENOUS CULTURES Melanesian & South Sea Islander mask
Production date
L280 x W520 x H620 mm
Media/Materials description
Bark cloth, rattan framework, black and red pigment.
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 and 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 and their dancers have taken leave.

Uploaded to the Web 27 May 2011.
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