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baba or yau-baba (bell-shaped woven mask)

mid 20th century


Abelam people

Papua New Guinea


An Abelam 'baba tagwa' mask is made from rattan through coiling, built up from a circular cane frame at neck level. This is often painted with natural earth pigments around the eye areas and with geometric patterns around the side of the mask.

During tambuan ceremonies, the wearer of the mask has a costume of shredded sago palm fronds that conceals dancer's 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 Titles

Helmet mask

baba tagwa mask

Cultural origin

Abelam people


mid 20th century

Media category

Ceremonial object

Materials used

coil-woven plant fibre, rattan, grey, yellow, red and black pigments


45.7 cm height :

0 - Whole; 45.7 cm


Purchased 1965


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Abelam people

Works in the collection


Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


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.

Aboriginal and Melanesian art, Sydney, 1973, 46. 99, 'Helmet mask. Abelam. Basketry, painted. 45.7h. P3.1965'

1965 Acquisitions, Sydney, 1965, 80. 144