Lot: 49

Helmet mask "tatanua"

Papua New Guinea - Bismarck Archipelago - New Ireland

Provenance Size Starting price / estimated price
Loudmer, Paris, 25 June 1992, Lot 104
German Private Collection
H: 17.3 inch 5000 EUR / 12000 EUR

lime wood (Alstonia Scholaris), coconut husk, rattan, bark cloth, plant fibre, fabric, lime, pigments (red, black), opercula, inventory no. "87L162", rest., base Earlier ethnologists believed that "tatanua" masks were representations of the spirit or soul ("tanua") of dead people. Today this idea is rejected by New Irelanders, who say that "tatanua" masks are idealized representations of living individuals, namely young men. Characteristic of this mask type is the crested hairstyle, as well as the fact that the bonnet is decorated differently on each side of the comb. The present example is idecorated to represent the hairstyle worn by young men as a mark of bereavement, in which the hair was partially shaved and coated with lime. "Tatanua" were danced in public, either in pairs, or in groups or lines of men. In 1907 Richard Parkinson published a description of a ceremony that he witnessed on a visit to New Ireland. The masked dancers performed, accompanied by drumming, wearing garlands of leaves and a leaf garment covering the lower body. The "tatanua" is one of the many dances and rital complexes incorporated in the large-scale mortuary celebrations called "malagan". Some six weeks before one of these large-scale mortuary celebrations took place, the dancers begin sleeping and eating within the sponsors house. During this time they practice a form of abstinence in order to develop male "strength" for the performance. Not only are physical contacts with women taboo, the men may not eat peeled taro and fish. Should a dancer fail to develope this male capability through abstinence, the mask will constrict his head, causing blood to run from his temples and nostrils.