Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Yam Mask

Date:
early to mid-20th century
Geography:
Papua New Guinea, Prince Alexander Mountains, Middle Sepik River region
Culture:
Abelam people
Medium:
Fiber, paint
Dimensions:
H. 25 in. (63.5 cm)
Classification:
Basketry-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1965
Accession Number:
1978.412.858
Not on view
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. Lavishly adorned for the presentation ceremony, the finest long yams are essentially transformed into human images, decorated in the manner of men in full ceremonial regalia. The “heads” of the enormous tubers are adorned with specially made yam masks such as this one, which are made exclusively for yams and are never worn by humans.
Father Heinemans, Catholic Mission, Wewak, Papua New Guinea, until 1965; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–1978

Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 29, 65-6.



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