Mask (Wale or Ware), Wood, paint, coastal Boiken people

Mask (Wale or Ware)

19th–early 20th century
Papua New Guinea, Lower Sepik River
coastal Boiken people
Wood, paint
H. 14 in. (35.6 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1977
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 354
Coastal Boiken groups formerly created masks (wale or ware), representing a variety of male and female spirits. Used by men during ceremonial performances, most were not placed directly on the face but were attached to a basketry framework that covered the dancer's head and was worn with a knee-length grass skirt. When not in use, the masks were kept as sacred objects within the men's ceremonial house. According to oral tradition, masks originated when women heard the sounds of underwater spirits. The men, attempting to find the source of the sound, probed the water with poles. Eventually, one man, Pantjapong, dived in and saw the spirits, who were wearing large masks. When he returned, the other men asked him to create masks resembling those worn by the spirits, which became the first masks.
[Wayne Heathcote, Australia, New York, and Papua, New Guinea, until 1977]

Gerstner, Andreas. "Der Geisterglaube im Wewäk-Boikin-Gebiet Nordost-Neuguineas." Anthropos vol. 47 (1952), pp. 803, 804, 806, 808.

May, Patricia. "Art Styles among the Boiken." In Sepik Heritage: Tradition and Change in Papua New Guinea, edited by Nancy Lutkehaus. Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1990, pp. 501-9. p. 505.

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, no. 63, p. 106.