Matua / Vanis mask

Tabar Islands or Central New Ireland

Carved wood (alstonia), natural pigments, shell

19th century
Heigth: 43 ¾ in. (111 cm)

Ex German museum collection (Leipzig?),
inv. #80294
Ex collection Scott Dugley, Seattle
Ex collection Loed van Bussel, Amsterdam
Ex collection Kevin Conru, Brussels
Ex collection Michel & Catherine Andrault, Paris
Ex private collection, Paris

Published in: Ferocious Poetry, Ancient Arts of New Ireland, 2019

Price: on request

Melanesia – Eastern Papua New Guinea
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The heavy masks in carved and painted wood often with large ears are known by the name of Matua or Vanis. They are also Malagans and their creation must adhere to the same strict corpus of rules as the statues. Their role is important, since their arrival marks the beginning of the end of the last stage of the funeral ceremony. They lead the wearers of Ges masks at sunrise to clean the village, collect shell money and chase away wandering spirits of the dead. In the village, they dance to the lamentations and weeping of the whole community. They then remove the taboos placed on the community and open access to the funeral enclosure where the last phases of the ceremony take place. The masks are then arranged for display next to the Men’s House. Unlike Malagan statues, masks can be used several times. The extraordinary lacey wooden carving with intertwined birds and flying fish of our mask is typical masks Verim sub-tradition, one that is very present in Tabar but also in central New Ireland. With its exuberance and extraordinary creativity, this mask numbers among the most remarkable known Vanis masks. It is possible that it is also linked to the Verim sub-tradition. Masks of this type and high quality were published as early as 1895 by Meyer and Parkinson. They were essentially collected in the 19th century.