Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Eharo Mask

Date:
early 20th century
Geography:
Papua New Guinea, Gulf Province, Papuan Gulf
Culture:
Elema people
Medium:
Bark cloth, bamboo, cane, fiber, paint
Dimensions:
H. 18 1/4 x W. 12 x D. 18 1/2 in. (46.4 x 30.5 x 47 cm)
Classification:
Bark-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1960
Accession Number:
1978.412.751
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

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