In addition to the very expressive wood carving consisting of a large nose and a grinning, tooth-filled mouth, this mask ensemble includes a headpiece of human hair attached to a basketry framework. The masquerader would also wear a body covering of feathers attached to fiber netting.
Since masking traditions had for the most part ended by the late nineteenth century, we have little definitive information about their meaning or use. Given personal names, the masks have been said to represent a water spirit associated with ancestors as well as forest spirits represented by birds. The masks have been described as appearing in a variety of circumstances, perhaps reflecting varying practices in different parts of the island. These include the wearing of the mask by a chief at important gatherings and the appearance of several of the masks at mourning rites for deceased chiefs. The hair on the masks is said to have come from male mourners, who cut their hair at the end of a mourning period.
Kanak peoples, New Caledonia
19th or early 20th century
Wood, feathers, hair, bark, fiber, pigment
H. 61 ½ in. (156.2 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 74.77.2