Baba, Woven Helmut Mask, 1970s-1980s

cane, pigment, cassowary feathers
77 x 32 cm

The Baba mask is woven of split cane, very tightly pulled together. It was made only by men, as they are used by males in male rituals. These masks represent spirit beings from the other world, bird-like and pig-like creatures, which symbolise that important connection between humans and the spirit world. The baba is always brightly painted before the ceremony, with the dancer having an ankle length thick grass skirt covering his whole body. The grass skirt sways and undulates as the dancer moves, and he is also decorated with cassowary feathers, colourful flowers, leaves and feathers. The dancer carries a spear, club or bone knife. Their primary job is to clear the ceremonial area of evil spirits. They have a comic side, rushing to frighten the women ( who play along) and the children ( who are truly terrified ) and scream or run away: the baba may hit the onlookers lightly or even quite forcefully. There was also a more sinister side involving ritual murder. This baba spirit can cause a capricious or pre-meditated killing, which goes unpunished, generally an individual who has transgressed the spirit laws. This aspect of the baba ritual ceased with the arrival of colonial rule. ( Tuzin:1982)

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