Abelam Ceremonial Yam Mask Baba
Abelam Ceremonial Yam Mask Baba
Abelam people, early to mid. 20th century, Maprik district, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea.
Exceptional, tightly woven older yam mask baba (also known as bapamini). A bulging helmet style mask woven from a type of wild vine (Lygodium) fibre with a prominent ridge for a nose and concentric rings for eyes. The back is open at lower bottom; the inside is unpainted. Exterior has geometric painted designs around face, and a crest with cylidrical protuberance top of head. Small woven loop is at the tip of the nose, with protruding cylidrical mouth.
The Abelam and neighboring peoples of the Prince Alexander Mountains in the Sepik region of northeast New Guinea create several types of basketry masks. They include the type seen here, known in the Abelam language as bapamini, used to decorate the gigantic long yams grown and exchanged competitively by Abelam men. Yam farming was a often the main crop, making up a large part of the Abelam society. During the yam growing season, strong emotions were kept to a minimum as they were thought to impede the growth of the yams. Fighting and sexual activity are taboo, it was thought that the yams had spirit and could sense these strong emotions. At harvest time, villagers would gather for the yam festival (wapisaki) ceremony, at which time the farmers who presented the largest and best yams, often claimed a higher status and social ranking. The finest and largest yams are essentially transformed into human images, decorated like the men in full ceremonial regalia. The heads of these yams are adorned with a hand-painted and finely woven masks. The pigments used on baba masks are sourced from natural ochres and paints. Colours are believed to have magical properties if used with spells or mixed with certain ingredients. The ochre painting is renewed each time the masks are used so they build up a encrusted smoky patina from extensive use and storage.
This superb yam mask are in excellent condition. Traces of yellow, white, dark brown and brownish red pigments over a thin layer of mud or a clay. Age-related wear and signs of use. Size approx. 27,0cm x 16,5cm x 20,5cm.
Provenance: Finnish private collection
References and further reading:
Abelam Masks: New Perspectives, Richard Scaglion, 2020, Tribal Art No. 96, pp. 42-49.
The Stars Are Eyes: A New Perspective on the Art of the Abelam, Marc Assayag, Montreal: Marc Assayag, 2019.
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