Friday, September 3, 2010


On New Ireland off the coast of the main island of Papua New Guinea, Malagan masks are worn by male members of the tribe during the Malagan funerary ceremony.  This ceremony is performed as a means of smoothing the way for the deceased's soul to enter the spirit world and it usually takes place between one and five years after death.  In the past, mourners, prior to the ceremony, painted their bodies black, ate only certain kinds of food, and burned the masks when the ceremony was done.  Today, participants in the Malagan do not grieve for the departed but honour his memory.

The task of making Malagan masks is that of a specially elected Master Carver; an important man in the village who fashions his helmet masks from wood, fibre and mud.  Unlike the more simple variety used in the past, today's creations are infinitely more elaborate as the carvers allow their artistic imaginations to take flight.

Fabian Paino at work
Transporting one home in a suitcase as a souvenir would be a daunting undertaking.  They are delicate, rather large and heavy, weighing in at about 15 kilograms.  Complex in design and painted with bright colours, carvings on the mask depict faces, birds, flowers and feathers.  Each Malagan tells a story, much in the style of totem poles here in North America.

Ben Sisia, Hosea Linge of Libba village and Edward Sali are some of New Ireland's most accomplished carvers; their Malagan masks occasionally fetch thousands of dollars and can be seen in museums worldwide.  The mask featured with this blog and worn by the carver himself is the work of Fabian Paino, an up and coming young carver in Papua New Guinea.

More on Papua New Guinea to follow....

Posted by Anne Gordon on Sunday, 5th September, 2010


At September 4, 2010 at 7:48 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have one such mask that is signed inside by Fabian P. of PNG


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