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Thick, light colored clays are used all over New Guinea to indicate mourning and death. Deceased ancestors and bush spirits are part of most New Guinea peoples day-to-day, if unseen, world. The Leahys were first assumed to be returning ancestors by the Highland peoples because of their white skin.
This Angu woman, her body and face coated in yellow clay, is part of a performance group, but yellow and whitish clays are still commonly used by people mourning the death of a close relative. Heavy, multiple strands of coix seeds (Job's tears) are worn in some areas with the strands removed one at a time until the mourning period is finished.
Sometimes colored stripes signify mourning, but these men are rolling logs as they dance and the stuck-out tongue is a sign of strength and aggressiveness. They wear conical barkcloth hats and leaf and fern laplaps.
These women are probably from near Kagua in the Southern Highlands Province. The massed effect of their bodies is like an op art painting, but much more dynamic.
Asaro River area mudmen from the Eastern Highlands create these very heavy clay masks modeled over a cane and barkcloth or burlap framework. White is the color of death, spirits and ghosts and can be used to frighten enemies with the associated power. Teeth, cow horns and long fingers of bamboo add to the theatrical effect. The cracking clay is supposed to represent decaying flesh.
The masks are fragile to transport because the clay is unfired. The mudmen are popular with tourists and have made money appearing for them, so now other groups copy the idea. Photograph by Scott Perry.
Some groups compete in a division for contemporary dances and skits which are often humorous with lots of sexual joking or mock battles. These snake dancers were a big hit. They carried carved wooden snakes and a big, live python as well.
Their black soot and oil base body paint is traditionally used by warriors to indicate power. They have accented the black with white skeleton designs plus tusked pig skulls for laplaps. Photograph by Scott Perry.
Photographs copyright Carolyn Leigh and Scott Lewis Perry, 1998.
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More articles/photos of NEW GUINEA MASKS:
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Artifacts on this site are collected in the field by my husband, Ron Perry. I take the photographs, do the html, text and maps. More background in Who We Are. Art-Pacific has been on the WWW since 1996. We hope you enjoy our New Guinea tribal art and Indonesian folk art as much as we do. Carolyn Leigh, P.O. Box 85284, Tucson, AZ 85754-5284 USA, Art-Pacific at http://www.art-pacific.com/