Boys' Initiation Mask (keweke)
This mask worn by boys during initiation rituals in Papua New Guinea is made of painted bark cloth and canvas stretched over a cane frame. The long fiber fringe adds movement to the mask, which is worn during dances and other secret rituals that that comprise boyhood initiation rites. These rituals often involve disguises, as initiates endure trials, receive food and drink from villagers, and accept the knowledge of elders. The mask form is also a reference to the spirits of ancestors who have come through these life stages and continued on. The long, oval masks are similar to the gope spirit boards that represent the ancestors at home, protecting its inhabitants. This mask is from the Wapo Creek or Era River area near the Gulf of Papua, though there are many other styles and forms of initiation masks as well as face and body paint used by the numerous tribes in the region.
Photo © The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Wapo Creek, Papuan Gulf, Melanesia, Cane, wood, bark cloth, canvas, paint, fiber, Accession number: B85.0350 (accessed March 26, 2010). Annotated by Susan Douglass.