Lot: 81

Rare and very early type of dance mask "kepong, before 1921

Papua New Guinea - Bismarck Archipelago - New Ireland

Provenance Size Starting price / estimated price
Heinrich Meyer (1878-1969), Neuenbrok/ Hankhausen, Germany H: 13.8 inch (mask);
31.5 inch (wings)
8000 EUR / 16000 EUR

wood, plant fibre, shell, pigments, fabric, This mask belongs to the very early type of "kepong" dance masks. Such masks were used in "malagan" ceremonies, which are extremely complex funeral rites that lasted several years. The mask type is said to have been used to cleansing rituals and taboo removal after a death. This rare dance mask was brought to Germany by Captain Heinrich Meyer (1878-1969), on his return to the country in 1921. Meyer, a teacher's son from Neuenbrok, had already embarked on a seaman's career as a young man and spent decades traveling all over the world for the North German Lloyd Bremen. Among other things, his path led him "to the cannibals" on Papua New Guinea, where he collected this remarkable dance mask. The outbreak of war in 1914 surprised him and his ship in Sumatra, where he and his machinist and a few Malays were stuck on a riverbank for five years. It was not until 1921 that he returned to Germany. The mask impressed him so much that he let himself be photographed with it for a newspaper article in honour of his 85th birthday (Nord-West-Zeitung, 14.2.1963). His adventurous life is documented in old ship logbooks. It is noteworthy that the mask is complete, with the side wings representing stylized birds. The mask was varnished. Comparable masks of the "kepong" type - illustrated by Conru (2013), ill. 187 & 188.


Conru, Kevin (ed.), Bismarck Archipelago Art, Milan 2013, ill. 187 & 188