Work of Art: Helmet Mask (Tatanua)
Melanesian
New Ireland
Helmet Mask (Tatanua)
before 1900
Wood, paint, fiber, and other natural materials
17 x 8 1/8 in. (43.2 x 20.6 cm)
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Hanes

Helmet masks were associated with memorial rites to honor ancestors and help ensure their continued benevolent intervention in the lives of members of the community. At these ceremonies, the masks were inhabited by the souls of the dead as their wearers danced to the accompaniment of a chorus and the beat of bamboo slit gongs. The design of each mask was unique in its shape; in the patterns painted in white, red, blue, and black; and in the configuration of the large fiber crest. Notice the lifelike eyes made from part of a sea snail shell.

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