PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Lower Sepik Brag Mask (PM013)
Description of item:
Fine Murik Lakes Lower Sepik River brag hard wood mask, red and white ochre, excellent gallery display; holes around the mask indicate that it was adorned with feathers or cloths; early 1900’s.
Height: 55 cm (21.6 inches)
Depth: 19 cm (7.4 inches)
Width: 22 cm (8.6inches)
Brag masks from the Lower Sepik represent ancestors and/or mythical beings and have personal names. They feature long, beak-like noses (spirit nose). It is generally accepted that long pointed noses represent spiritual beings, while short naturalistic ones (as displayed on this piece) portray true ancestors. They are stored at the men’s house. The spirits of these masks are evoked during important occasions such as the building of cult house or canoe, or at initiation ceremonies. They can be characterized as male and warlike, seducing women and devouring young initiates. The brag masks were consulted before headhunting raids and given food and blood. After a successful raid, the victim’s head was rubbed on the masks so they could drink the blood (and likewise the young men as it was believed to make them strong). Brag masks were also used to determine the cause of a person’s illness via the oldest clansman (shaman) who became possessed by the spirit of the mask and found out who or what caused the disease.
Craig, B. ‘Living Spirits with Fixed Abodes’, (2010: 210-211).
Meyer, A.J.P., ‘Oceanic Art. Ozeanishe Kunst. Art Océanien’, (1995: plate 200).
Lipset, D. ‘Mangrove Man. Dialogics of Culture in the Sepik Estuary’, (1997: 135-139).
Private Australian collection.