University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Helmet Mask [Object of the Day #101]


November 6, 2012

Funerary Mask
Funerary Mask

This type of helmet mask (tatanua) is worn by male dancers in large, multi-village funerary celebrations in central and northern New Ireland (Papua New Guinea).  It features a large, arching crest of reddish brown plant fiber and sides decorated with red and blue trade cloth and feathers.  The wood face, with straight open mouth and long, stretched ear lobes, is painted red, black and white and yellow.  The eyes are opercula (the “trap doors” that close off the openings) of a species of sea snail.  Preparations for performances with these powerful masks involves weeks of ritual avoidance of any kind of contact with women.

Penn Museum Object #P4555

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