Mask | lor
Dance mask, um 1890
About the object
The face of this mask, primed in white, is designed with fine lines in blue and red paint over the cheeks and eyebrows, as well as with triangles in red and black. Its expression derives from the mask's long, pointed chin, the straight nose and the wide protruding forehead. Raffia fibres provide the ample head of hair. The mask was made by the Tolai, the coastal inhabitants of the Gazelle Peninsula, which is part of New Britain. It probably represents a spirit of the dead and plays a role in ritual mask dances.
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The long, pointed chin, the straight nose and the widely protruding forehead lend expression to this mask primed in white. The triangles under the mouth indicate the beard, while strands of raffia provide the mask with its shock of hair. The red colouration was derived from clay, whereas a mixture of soot and palm oil providing the black and white, was obtained by burning coral. The blue is presumably industrially-produced paint. This mask type, which encloses the whole head of the wearer, was made by the Tolai, the coastal inhabitants of the Gazelle Peninsula, which is part of New Britain. It appears in ritual mask dances and probably represents a spirit of the dead. The religion of the Tolai is determined by a strong belief in the existence of ancestors. The souls of the deceased remain connected to their descendants after death, providing them with protection, but they can also cause harm. In honour of the ancestral spirits and to make them merciful, ceremonies were held in which various impressive masks were used. The two secret societies iniet and dukduk, to which only men belonged, were responsible for this. They were initiated into the secrets of the spirit world and into magic rituals as well as into the knowledge and skills of mask making. Little is known about the ceremonies and mask dances, as the Tolai kept the mask performances secret from strangers and uninitiated. Moreover, the secret societies were not only most fiercely opposed by foreign missionaries, but were also banned by the German colonial administration (1885-1914). The iniet-society was completely expunged, in contrast to the dukduk society, which has managed to survive in an active form to this day. Author: Heike Gerlach, Translation: Timothy Connell