This is an exceptionally old mask of a form that has stylistic traits to other masks from mainland New Guinea, the islands of the Huon Gulf and neighbouring west New Britain. This area is known for its many links between differing cultures and, along with the trade of goods, the various artistic elements seen in this mask are a result of this richly complex cultural area.
The ears are elongated with carved representations of pendant rings of turtle shell worn by both men and women. To the forehead is a patterned representation of a headband above which were once two carved circles, one now lost, which take the form of circular boar tusks; an important form of wealth and a visual sign of prestige. The mouth has a protrusion that also represents circular boar tusks that have been made into an ornament that is gripped by the teeth during performance at events.
The black triangular shapes painted around the eyes suggest this is the image of what is known by the Kilenge people of New Britain as a Nausung. These are feared spirits from the bush and such Nausung masks are worn in ritual performances, some connected to initiation rites for young men.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra