H. 18 1/4 x W. 12 x D. 18 1/2 in. (46.4 x 30.5 x 47 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1960
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
The Elema people of the eastern Papuan Gulf region in southeast New Guinea formerly practiced a lengthy cycle of masked rituals centered on the visitation of water spirits. The large masks representing the water spirits were highly sacred. However, other masks, called eharo, such as that seen here, were created primarily for amusement. Described as maea morava eharu (things of gladness), eharo were worn in performances during two stages of the cycle, as a prelude to more serious activities. Most depicted spirits and totemic species associated with individual clans or characters from local oral tradition. Eharo masks were made and worn by men from neighboring villages at the request of the village hosting the ceremony. As the men entered the host village, the resident women pelted them with shredded coconut to neutralize their seductive powers, which might otherwise prove irresistible. The men wearing the eharo masks then danced, surrounded by women from their home villages. A lighthearted atmosphere prevailed, and eharo performances were often boisterous and bawdy.
[Watson O'Dell Pierce, Archaeological Artifacts & Antiques, New York, until 1960]; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1960–1978