Oceania, Papua New Guinea, Kamge Village, Abelam village in the Wosera area, ca. early to mid 20th century CE. A finely carved and painted balsa wood mask with a standing cockatoo carved atop the head. The advantage of using balsa wood is that it is remarkably light, making it possible to create this impressive, larger sculpture that was, interestingly, intended to decorate a yam. The anthropomorphic visage is striking, featuring large coffee bean shaped eyes, a long nose with wide nostrils to either side, and a gently smiling mouth. Perched atop his head is a bird is of the same red, black, and white color scheme as the visage beneath. This mask was created for festivals surrounding the cherished yam, the crucial crop of the Abelam people of northeast Papua New Guinea. Masks like this example have traditionally been used to adorn the heads of huge tubers, rather than humans. Size: 5.125" W x 18.125" H (13 cm x 46 cm); 21" H (53.3 cm) on included custom stand.
The Abelam cultivate massive yams in addition to the ordinary variety. These can be as large as 12 feet long. According to the curatorial department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "A man’s social status is determined largely by his success in growing long yams. Each man has a permanent exchange partner to whom he ceremonially presents his largest yams following the annual harvest, later receiving those of his rival in return. Men who are consistently able to give their partners longer yams than they receive gain great prestige. Lavishly adorned for the presentation ceremony, the finest long yams are essentially transformed into human images, decorated in the manner of men in full ceremonial regalia." (http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/311328)
Provenance: ex-private Tucson, Arizona, USA collection
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