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JIPAE MASK ASMAT

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Rare and visually striking mask from the Asmat culture, Papua New Guinea.
Fum string, sago fibres, bamboo, feathers and shells
1930

The Jipae mask, from the Asmat tribe of Papua, New Guinea, is worn during a Jipae festival held every few years to celebrate the passage of the recently dead from the earthly world into the spirit world. During the festival a close relative of the deceased wears the Jipae mask and represents the ghost of the dead person. The people who will wear the named masks during the ceremony are chosen in advance: each will impersonate a particular deceased person and afterwards take on that person’s responsibilities including raising their children. The ghosts parade around the village, interacting with the villagers, accepting gifts and food for their journey to the spirit world. They eventually arrive in front of the men’s ceremonial house, where the dead and the living join in a dance, accompanied by drums, flutes, and singing., which continues long into the night. The following morning, the dead, now properly fed, and entertained, having seen for themselves the well-being of the relatives they have left behind, depart for safan, the realm of the ancestors. The Asmats, a population from Melanesia, live in the southwest area of West Papua or Irian Jaya, now a province of Indonesia, occupying the western half of the island of New Guinea. They are especially known for their carved wooden artefacts including shields, canoe prows and the tall bis poles associated with mortuary ceremonies. Ancestors played an important role in their culture, especially in pre-Christian times. Traditionally the Asmat were head hunters, a practice which did not cease until the early 1960s. In 1961 the 23 year old son of the former Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller24, was in the Asmat tribe area searching for local artefacts. His subsequent disappearance was attributed to these customs. The first contact the Asmats had with the Europeans was in 1623 with the Dutch. However, due to the Asmats’ reputation, for headhunting, visitors from abroad were few for many years. The Dutch settled in the Asmat area in 1920, bringing the first Catholic missionaries. The contacts with the West became more and more continuous so that the violent cannibal customs were gradually abandoned. Prior to the arrival of missionaries and the introduction of the Christian Catholic religion, the Asmat practiced worship to the Spirits and the ghosts of the dead. It was commonly believed that most deaths were caused intentionally by malevolent energies. To make these deaths cease the ancestors’ spirits demanded an enemy be killed, beheaded and the body offered to the community for the cannibalism. It was in this cultural atmosphere with deeply rooted worship of Spirits, exerting a strong influence on the individuals’ life, that a Jipae mask, like the one offered here, plays a basic role.

H. 180 cm

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