Malangan mask, 1880
About the object
The malangan carvings fashioned from lightweight wood are part of the eponymous Malangan ritual in the northern part of New Ireland to commemorate the dead that lasts for many years and which culminates in a great celebration. The fragile carvings are displayed here or presented in a dance performance. The relatives of the deceased commission specialists to make the malangans. The carved and delicately painted patterns depict the life and the person of the deceased, their position in society, such as their membership of a kinship group associated with snakes, birds or fish. The indigenous people are able to read this pictorial language. It consolidates the social order, which has been disturbed by the death of one of its members and can be realigned through this artefact. Many of the malangan carvings are left to rot after the ceremony when they have served their purpose, or have been sold to Europeans since the late-19th century. Malangan festivals, adapted into a Christian context, still take place today. This mask was collected by Robert Beirer from Sipplingen, who worked for the New Guinea Company as a storeroom assistant at the end of the 19th century and sold a large collection to the Museum in Freiburg.