We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


Solkeo pe engelop (gourd mask)

mid 20th century
collected 1969


Mendi people

Papua New Guinea

  • Details

    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
    Media categories
    Ceremonial object , Mixed media
    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
    © Mendi people, under the endorsement of the Pacific Islands Museums Association's (PIMA) Code of Ethics

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Mendi people

    Works in the collection


  • About

    '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]

  • Places

    Where the work was made


  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 1 exhibition

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 4 publications

Other works by Mendi people

See all 7 works