Unknown Artist

Finely Woven Yam Mask, mid 20th century

Woven cane, pigment, cassowary feathers

With stand: 39 x 20 x 11 cm – without stand: 34 x 20 x 11 cm

$1,200, including stand

Wosera, Southern Abelam, Papua New Guinea
Private collection, Sydney

Collected in 1971, this mask shows the fine detail of an older experienced Abelam weaver.

The form is beautiful, with a bulbous head probably representing a cockatoo, and very tight weaving. The colours are subtle and subdued. Used in yam lining ceremonies by the Abelam to decorate newly harvested giant yams.

One of the major focuses of ceremonial life among the Abelam people of northeast New Guinea is the competitive growth and exchange of long yams. The Abelam cultivate two distinct categories of yams—a small variety used as ordinary food and long yams, massive tubers that can be as much as twelve feet long. A man’s social status is determined largely by his success in growing long yams.

Each man has a permanent exchange partner to whom he ceremonially presents his largest yams following the annual harvest, later receiving those of his rival in return. Men who are consistently able to give their partners longer yams than they receive gain great prestige.


In stock