Kavat mask for night dances
Uramot-Baining people, Gazelle Peninsula
Tapa (barkcloth), rattan and pigments
Mid 20th century
Height: 37 in. (94 cm)
Ex private collection, UK
The face represents a specific spirit, probably that of a special leaf used by the Baining for ceremonial foods and believed to come from a tree that absorbs evil (see Arts of the South Seas, ed. D. Newton, page 260).
As stated by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the dramatic bark cloth kavat masks created by Central Baining peoples are used exclusively in the night dance, a nocturnal performance lit by firelight. The Central Baining practice both day dance and night dance rites. The day dance, accompanied by an orchestra of women, is devoted to female fertility, agriculture, and the mourning of the dead, phenomena typically associated with the community.
The night dance, by contrast, is accompanied by a male orchestra and dedicated to spirits, animals, and commodities associated with the surrounding forest, which are represented by the kavat masks. Several dozen forms of kavat masks exist, each of which depicts a spirit linked with a specific animal, plant, product, or activity associated with the forest.
Baining people, Firedancer wearing a ceremonial mask, Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain, Papua New Guinea.
Baining Fire Dance
Firedancer wearing a ceremonial mask, Baining people, Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain, Papua New Guinea.
Photograph: Taro Taylor