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Timpsonk (cult mask)

mid 20th century
collected 1963


Mendi people

Papua New Guinea


During the 1950s, the 'timp' cult swept through the Mendi Valley in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, traded from the south through gift-exchange. Ritual knowledge was acquired by cult sponsors in exchange for valuables. The transactions took place over several months and were accompanied by complex and highly secretive ceremonial events.

'Timp' was performed to control malicious 'towmow' (ancestral ghosts believed to bring sickness). The innards and fat from slaughtered pigs were cooked in earth ovens then distributed to cult inductees. Blood was collected and offered to the ghosts. Spells were recited and the pork eaten, after which the bones were gathered and placed in a bundled 'corpse' that mimicked the bound bones of deceased kin. The 'corpse' was then taken from the cult house and paraded before spectators, escorted by men wearing 'timpsonk' masks. Finally, it was buried, as interning the bones weakened the 'towmow'.

[entry from Exhibition Guide for 'Melanesian art: redux', 2018, cat no 39]


Other Titles

Ceremonial clown mask



Timbsonk (cult mask)

Place where the work was made

Mendi Southern Highlands Province Papua New Guinea

Cultural origin

Mendi people


mid 20th century
collected 1963

Media category

Ceremonial object

Materials used

woven rattan, earth pigments, gold-lipped oyster shell (Pinctada maxima), bamboo, plant fibre, shells, burr seeds, machine-wove cotton fabric, plant fibre string, animal skin


woven mask 132.0 cm height; 48.0 to 52.0 cm diameter; figure 74.0 x 34.1 cm


Purchased 1977

Accession number


Artist information

Mendi people

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 4 publications


Trevor Shearston, Plumes and pearlshells: art of the New Guinea highlands, 'Timpsonk (cult mask)', pg. 58-61, Sydney, 2014, 15, 59 (colour illus.), 60, 159. 7

Natalie Wilson, Look, 'A myriad of artforms: rare and beautiful objects from the highlands of New Guinea', pg. 24-28, Sydney, May 2014, 27.

Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 47, 49. H3

Melanesian art, Sydney, 1966, 18. 252