Nederlandse versie

Yam masks and Baba masks:

ritual masks from Papua New-Guinea

The Abelam people (app. 40.000 souls) live on the forested plains in northern Papua New Guinea. They link spiritual well-being and material survival in one cosmology, which focuses in part on their staple vegetable crop: yams.

At harvest they decorate large yams which can grow to two and three metres long. The decorated yams are displayed publicly and are exchanged between men. When decorated, the yams represent ancestral spirits called Nggwal.

Nggwal spirits do not act by themselves, but must be encouraged with offerings, chants and decorations. The decorations used on long yams like this, include tightly woven painted masks. Yam masks were therefore made to decorate a long yam and to enable it to embody a Nggwal spirit.




Baba masks (also called helmet masks or dance masks) also play an important role in the yam-, ancestor- and initiation cult of the Abelam. Baba masks are made from native plant material with applied natural pigment decoration.

Source: The British Museum, London

All masks are mounted.