Baba Tagwa Tumbwa Masks are a full helmet mask used during the Yam ceremonies and during male initiations. They are made of woven cane fibre and painted with natural paints made of minerals and plant extracts sometimes rubbed with mud before painting. Basketry yam masks are an essential part of the elaborate yam harvest ceremonies and festivals for the Abelam people of the East Sepik Province. Rituals associated with yams form the basis of the spiritual life of the Abelam.
Collected WW11 era. Rare old used ritual example with beautiful deep aged rich patina.
Height: 39 cm (15.5 inches) x Width 24 cm (9.5 inches) x Depth 29 cm (11.5 inches).
The Abelam and neighbouring peoples of the Prince Alexander Mountains in the Middle Sepik region of northeast New Guinea create several types of basketry masks. They include this type, known in the Abelam language as baba tagwa, which is worn over the head like a helmet, as well as the yam masks used to decorate the gigantic long yams grown and exchanged competitively by Abelam men. Among the Abelam, baba tagwa masks are associated with the male initiation cycle, in which they are worn by men clad in shaggy costumes made from strips of leaves. During certain ceremonies, these imposing masked figures serve as guards. Brandishing lengths of bamboo or other weapons, the baba tagwa drive off women, children, and uninitiated men, who are not permitted to witness the secret initiation rites. However they represent procreation spirits not meant to be feared.
One of the major focuses of ceremonial life among the Abelam people of northeast New Guinea is the competitive growth and exchange of long yams. The Abelam cultivate two distinct categories of yams—a small variety used as ordinary food and long yams, massive tubers that can be as much as twelve feet long. A man’s social status is determined largely by his success in growing long yams. Each man has a permanent exchange partner to whom he ceremonially presents his largest yams following the annual harvest, later receiving those of his rival in return. Men who are consistently able to give their partners longer yams than they receive gain great prestige. Lavishly adorned for the presentation ceremony, the finest long yams are essentially transformed into human images, decorated in the manner of men in full ceremonial regalia. The “heads” of the enormous tubers are adorned with specially made yam masks, which are made exclusively for yams and are never worn by humans.