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An image of Baba tagwa mask by
Alternate image of Baba tagwa mask by

Maprik District, East Sepik Province, Papua New Guinea

Baba tagwa mask
Other titles:
Helmet mask
Place of origin
Maprik DistrictEast Sepik ProvincePapua New Guinea
Cultural origin
Ambulas (Abelam) people
Media category
Ceremonial object
Materials used
plant fibres, rattan, grey, yellow, red and black pigments

45.7 cm height:

0 - Whole; 45.7 cm

Purchased 1965
Accession number
Not on display
Further information

An Abelam baba tagwa mask is formed by a conical helmet made from rattan and built up from a circular cane frame at neck level. This is often painted with natural pigments around the eye areas and with geometric patterns around the side of the mask.

During the ceremonies the wearer of the helmet has a costume of shredded sago palm fronds to conceal the identity. A garland of inedible bright orange and green fruit, called mban, is sometimes worn around the collar of the mask and leaves are often woven into the openwork of the crest and hung from the loop at the end of the nose. The wearer of the costume act as both a clown and policeman to keep the uninitiated from witnessing certain events.

The baba figure is found throughout the Abelam area but the style of the helmet mask varies from region to region.

Bibliography (2)

Daniel Thomas (Editor), 1965 Acquisitions, Sydney, 1965, 80. 144

Natalie Wilson, Hunting the collectors: Pacific collections in Australian museums, art galleries and archives, '(Works of) paradise and yet: Stanley Gordon Moriarty, Tony Tuckson and the collection of Oceanic Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 221-241, Newcastle upon Tyne, 2007, 233.

Exhibition history (3)

Collection of Sepik and Maprik art, Frances Jones Studio, Woollahra, Jun 1965 -

Purchases and Acquisitions for 1965, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 09 Mar 1966–03 Apr 1966

Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 19 Oct 1974 -