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Pacific art

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Baba tagwa mask


Unknown Artist


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.


Other Title

Helmet mask

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


Not on display

Accession number


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 2 publications


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.