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An image of Mudman's mask by

Upper Asaro, Daulo District, Eastern Highlands Province, Papua New Guinea

Mudman's mask
Other titles:
A mud mask from Goroka
Place of origin
Upper AsaroDaulo DistrictEastern Highlands ProvincePapua New Guinea
Cultural origin
Upper Asaro (Dano) people
collected 1965
Media category
Ceremonial object
Materials used
mud, netting, leaves, cane, teeth, Job's Tears (Coix lacryma-jobi) seeds

33.0 x 35.6 x 35.6 cm:

0 - Whole; 33 cm (13"); Diameter of base

0 - Whole; 35.6 cm (14")

Purchased with grateful acknowledgement to Cynthia Nolan 2008
Accession number
© Dano people, under the endorsement of PIMA's 'Code of Ethics'
Not on display
Further information

In March 1965, Australian painter Sidney Nolan travelled to Papua New Guinea as part of the artist's six-month fellowship with the Australian National University. Spending only a few weeks in the Sepik and Highlands districts, Nolan visited Nondugl, where fellow Australian artist William Dobell had stayed for several months in 1949 and 1950 at Sir Edmund Hallstroms' experimental sheep station.

Nolan also stayed at Goroka, in the Asaro Valley of the Eastern Highlands, where he dined one evening with a young school teacher and a government secretary. On the shelves in their bungalow sat 'a wonderful grey-blue mud mask with real teeth and a seed necklace through its nose' (Cynthia Nolan, 'Paradise, and yet', Sydney: Macmillan, 1971). Upon his return to Port Moresby, and before his flight back to Sydney, to his surprise, the mask had arrived at the airport – a gift from the Goroka women he had met.

The myth of the origin of Asaro mud masks was initially reported by the American cultural anthropologist and curator at the American Museum of Natural History, Margaret Mead, who described their use in a display dance which re-enacted the salvation of the Asaro from an enemy.

According to legend, the Asaro were attacked and fled into the Asaro River. They emerged covered in white clay, and their enemies, thinking they were in the presence of spirits of the dead, turned and ran. The original mudmen masks – of which this is an incomparable example – were fashioned on a cane framework. Later versions were sculpted entirely out of clay, without any internal support.

Bibliography (3)

Chris Boylan and Greta North, The world of tribal arts, 'Highlands Art of New Guinea', pg. 73-83, San Francisco, Winter 1997, 77 (colour illus.). 9

Cynthia Nolan, Paradise, and yet, London, 1971, 120, 148, 152.

Tony Tuckson, Melanesian art, Sydney, 1966, 18, (illus.). 240; plate no. 11

Exhibition history (1)

Melanesian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 20 Apr 1966–22 May 1966