Ceremonial Dance Mask, Ramu River, PNG, Early to Mid-20th Century

Early to Mid-20th Century
wood, pigment, nassa shells, fibre
71 x 22 cm

This mask is a male mask with the personal name “Dimik”, from the village of Gamai, near the mouth of the Ramu River, on the North Coast of PNG. The eyes are cut through, with peralshell rings originally inserted into the depression around the eyes. The nose is thick, long and curved, giving it a phallic form but also a bird-like form. Such masks combine human and bird-like features, relating to the clan spirits.
The back of the mask shows the good age of the mask; it has numerous holes that fasten the mask to a grander costume structure, which is a towering cone made of woven cane – large but not so heavy. Inside this costume, the male dancer is completely hidden, looking out through the eye holes in the mask.
Masks were worn in village secret society ceremonies, and almost always painted red, as this made the mask “hot” in spiritual terms. The mask itself was decorated with dog teeth and shell ornaments; the pierced nose and ears held shells. Just a few of the nassa shells are still attached to the mask. After the ceremony, shell adornments are generally removed and stored away.


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