Ceremonial mask "Baba Tagwa"
Abelam-people, East-Sepik, Papua New Guinea, private collection from Finland.
Sepik is the longest river on the island of New Guinea. In the Asia-Pacific region, the Sepik River's region is thought to be the largest freshwater wetlands that still remain uncontaminated by humans and industry. Enormous, over 1,126 km long Sepik River meander slowly through the forested lowlands, floodplains and backwater swamps. Along the banks of the river and its many tributaries live sparsely remote villages, scarcely contacted by the outside world. Many of the villages along East Sepik River did not have contact with Western world until the late 19th century and maintained a lifestyle that changed little for thousand years.
The people of diverse and ecologically rich Sepik region speaks more than 250 different languages are knitted together of trading and cultural interaction. The largest language and culture group along the river is the Iathmul-people (c. 10,000 people). The life is centered on the river. Men fish from their traditional dugout canoes to provide a primarily diet of fish, while women make sago out of the sago palm tree. Sepik is called a ”living gallery of tribal art”. The Sepik is one of the most profuse and diverse art producing regions of the world. The numerous different tribes living along the river produce magnificent wood carvings and clay pottery. In the same way, each clan's traditions are unique, so is their art. Unique in the style, colors, and design, and taking various shapes depending on the villages, stools, masks, totems, house posts, hooks, drums and shields. Many of these totems and masks aim to protect the villages and clans against evil spirits.
The Abelam-people live in East Sepik Province of Papua New Guinea, in Prince Alexander mountains near the north coast of the island. They are farming society in which giant yams play significant role. The growing of giant yams (they can be as large as 2,3 meters long) determines the status of individuals as well the whole village. Separate villages would gather at yam festivals where the hosting villages status would be determined by the size of their yams. 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 stron emotions.
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 vegetal masks. This gorgeous mask have bold features such as large spiraled eyes, a prominent nasal ridge and stylized headdress/coiffure atop. Traces of yellow, black and brownish red pigments over a thin layer of mud or a clay. Very good condition. Dust and dirt. Size approx. 28,0cm x 18,0cm and height c. 20,0cm.