Tatanua mask

New Ireland

Carved wood, natural pigments
fiber and shell
Late 19th or early 20th century
Height: 12 ½ in. (32 cm)

Ex collection Robert Rousset (1901-1981), Paris
Acquired between 1920 and 1930
By descent

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

Price: on request

Melanesia – Eastern Papua New Guinea
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Tatanua masks are among the most emblematic objects that exist in Oceanic art. They can be found throughout the northern region of New Ireland. They are always characterized by a face sculpted in a very stylized manner with a wide jaw, motifs painted in red, yellow and black, coiffed with a large crest in vegetable fibers. This coif probably evokes mourners who shave both sides of their heads. There is great diversity to be found in museums and private collections. They are important to ritual life, marking the closing of the cycle of a Malagan funeral ceremony for an important chief by removing the last taboos. These masks in general are used in groups dancing in a complex choreography. Steps are light, and the music is rather evocative of bird song. In conclusion, Tatanua masks are not Malagans and they are danced in sight of everyone in the village. Nevertheless, they are one of the components of important Malagan ceremonies, being danced just before final exchanged between clans.