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Pacific art

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Solkeo pe engelop (gourd mask)

mid 20th century
collected 1969


Mendi people

Papua New Guinea


'Solkeo pe engelop' masks were worn by fierce warriors who had taken many lives in battle. They were created from the hardened outer skin of the 'pe engelop' (bottle gourd), or calabash, and adorned with seed burrs and human hair. 'Solkeo' refers to a malevolent mythical figure that cannibalised its victims. Worn on rare occasions by one or two men during the annual mol dance, these masks symbolised evil power as well as courage and strength. Long lengths of tree moss also concealed the bodies of the masked men and their legs were covered in white clay.

The Mendi people thought their Lake Kutuban neighbours were headhunters and referred to them as 'solkeo'. These masks resemble face designs worn during Lake Kutuban dance ceremonies. Mendi men travelled to Lake Kutubu to trade for 'tigaso' tree oil and may have adopted these decorations into their own ceremonies, symbolising the fierce warriors who had killed Mendi in battle.

[Exhibition text for 'Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands', AGNSW, 2014]


Other Title

Gourd mask

Place where the work was made

Mendi Southern Highlands Province Papua New Guinea

Cultural origin

Mendi people


mid 20th century
collected 1969

Materials used

gourd (Lagenaria siceraria), human hair, burr seeds, oil, plant resin, red pigment, coix seeds (Coix lacryma-jobi), plant fibres


44.0 x 17.0 x 8.5 cm


Purchased 1977


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Mendi people

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Lynn Chua, Microchemical Journal, 'FTIR and Raman microscopy of organic binders and extraneous organic materials on painted ceremonial objects from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea', pg. 246-256, Amsterdam, 2017, 248, 250, 252.

Theodore Mawe, Mendi culture and tradition: a recent survey, Port Moresby, 1985. general reference to Mendi culture and information about 'solkeo pe engelop'

Tony Tuckson, Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 49. H1

Natalie Wilson (Editor), Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, Sydney, 2014, 75 (colour illus.), 160. 22