Melanesian Artefacts:

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Ancestral Mask (Alamblak):
Ancestral Mask (Alamblak)


People: Alamblak people

Linguistic Family: Alamblak Language, Sepik Hill Family and Stock, Middle Sepik Super-Stock, Sepik Sub-Phylum, and Sepik-Ramu Phylum.

District or Village: Taragai on the Mangarra Baret in the Blackwater River area of the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea.

Collected: This piece was collected by Hubert Umlauf from the village of Taragai in the early 1970s.

Description: The ancestral mask is decorated in the traditional Alamblak way. The mask has a large ridged nose with flared nostrils and a large hole through the septum. Cowrie shells set in resin have been used for the eyes which are narrow-set in convex sockets. The mask has an open mouth with thick pursed lips.

A notched centreline ridge runs from between the eyes upwards over a proportionally tall forehead before splitting and arching over in the form of brows. Heavy asymmetric swirl and crescent wave patterns are incised on both cheeks and each side of the forehead. There are small ears on each side of the mask at eye level and the back of the mask is hollowed out.

It is evident from the charred well-rounded edges around such features as the mouth that the mask has been subjected to a number of overburnings and repaintings. Alternate incisions have been grouted with red ochre and a grey/white clay material.

Size and Material: The mask is 650mm high and 190mm wide and has a depth of about 110mm. Wood, pigments and ochres.

Comment: After carving, the mask is lightly burnt to char the surface to give the mask with some protection against insect attack. This surface treatment also provides an adhesive base for the application of the coloured ochres which are rubbed into the surface.

History: The mask shows many signs of numerous burnings and overpaintings which indicate its age and usage.

Old Catalogue No.: 51859, 3308; SPK040; ML0076.

New Guinea showing the region of the Gogodala people between the Aramia River and the Fly River Estuary

Map 1: New Guinea and the region of the Alamblak people, the village of Sevenbuk and the Blackwater River in the East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea

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