Bowdoin College Museum of Art

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Unknown Artist


Malagan Mask

Creation Date

ca. 1870 - 1890


mid-late 19th century


16 1/8 in. x 12 1/2 in. x 8 5/8 in. (41 cm. x 31.8 cm. x 21.9 cm.)

Object Type


Creation Place

Oceania, New Ireland

Medium and Support

polychrome, wood, natural fiber

Credit Line

Gift of Harold M. Sewall


Public Domain

Accession Number

The Malagan ceremony takes place among the tribes of New Ireland, an island off the coast of Papua New Guinea. The ritual is meant to complete the cycle of mourning for those who have died, sending off their spirits that are represented through masks like these, as well as through painted panels and other sculptures. They were used during the elaborate ceremonies, which sometimes last days and include trade, feasting, music, song, and dance. Once the ritual is completed the masks lose their power and meaning, and are no longer needed. Traditionally they were burned, but with the increased presence of Europeans in the late nineteenth century, Melanesians realized they could sell the sculptures to the visiting westerners hungry for “exotic” ritual objects from cultures around the world.

Object Description

See attached pdf article (under surrogate list) "New Ireland Art of the South Pacific". A good reference for mask.

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